This season has been a rollercoaster ride for running back Jonathan Dwyer. The first two weeks he led a struggling ground game in rushing, albeit the numbers were not anywhere near where he would like with just 71 yards combined in two games.
He followed that up with being a game day inactive against Philadelphia and Tennessee in weeks four and five once a healthy Rashard Mendenhall returned to the starting lineup.
But with Mendenhall and Isaac Redman both out against Cincinnati on Oct. 21, Dwyer got the start and rattled off 122 yards on 17 carries. He followed that with a 107 yard performance against the Washington Redskins, but a quad injury sidelined him against the Giants the following week.
Dwyer has led the team in rushing in each of the last three games in a backup role, and this week, his hard work has paid off as he was named the team’s starter.
“It’s something I have done before,” said Dwyer. “It’s not new to me so I can adjust to it easily. I am excited about playing and the fact that I can start is a plus. In all reality I don’t think too much about it, I just think about improving on my mistakes to help us win.”
While he has started before, this is truly the first time that Dwyer’s name is listed first on the team’s depth chart. In his previous starts this year he was stepping in because of injuries, while Mendenhall remained the top back. But Mendenhall has been moved to third on the depth chart and the job now belongs to Dwyer.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Dwyer. “It’s something every guy works hard to do and works hard to get to in their career. It’s all in God’s hands. If this is his plan for me, this is it. I am going to continuously work hard every day and show my teammates I am serious about this and they can depend on me in this situation.
“You want to solidify yourself around here and keep your spot and work hard to show you are consistent and know people can depend upon you week in and week out.”
The Steelers are going to need Dwyer’s physical style of play this week going up against a Baltimore Ravens defense that thrives on delivering hits.
“That is the style I have always played with,” said Dwyer. “I can do whatever they need, I can make guys miss. But I like to be very physical at the beginning of the game. That is how I was taught to run the ball. Sometimes when you are physical at the beginning of the game, later in the game the defensive player is not going to want to take those hits. By doing that you can sometimes break tackles and have longer runs.
“I am ready to be the player I am, which is a physical player and just do whatever I can to help get us a win.”
The Steelers are currently tied with the Cincinnati Bengals for the sixth spot in the AFC playoff race, holding a slight edge having beaten the Bengals earlier this season. This week isn’t a “must win” for the team, but Dwyer understands how important it is.
“It’s a big game because it’s the next game, but it’s also a big game because it’s Baltimore,” said Dwyer. “Every game for us from here on out is a big game. If we want to get to where we need to be, we need to do things to help us win games. Right now that is focusing on Baltimore.”
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Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley
Is it easier to come back from a performance like last week because it was an odd set of circumstances than it would be if you were just stuffed all day on offense?
No, I don’t think it’s ever easy. It’s just a fact of life that you have to come back, regardless of the result of the week before. You have to come back and prepare to win the biggest game of the year, which is this week. We have a lot of work to do, and we’ve got to be better.
How did your quarterbacks look today?
What about Ben Roethlisberger, specifically?
He did a little bit in the early part of practice. Like Coach [Tomlin] said, he’s keeping the door open, so we’ll see tomorrow how much he’s able to do. It was positive that he was out here and throwing a little bit, so that’s a good thing.
How much do you really need to see from Roethlisberger? Does he really need to heave the ball before Sunday?
That’ll be up to Coach Tomlin and the doctors. Like we always say, we go by what we see. We have to come out and execute in the pass and run game. Like I said, he did some today and that’s a good start.
What would make you expect QB Charlie Batch to play better in this game than he did last game?
I think the circumstances of the game, just the way it started in the first half with the halfbacks struggling a little bit and the ball ending up on the ground and giving them opportunities. The game, from the start, never really went the way that we needed it to go, which was to play good on defense like we did and on offense, first and foremost, protect the football and be efficient. I just think it probably put a little stress on everybody. Even though we had the lead to start the second half, it just wasn’t a situation that our guys handled very well, and we have to do better and not put ourselves in that situation to begin with. Any time you’re talking about a quarterback that hasn’t played a whole bunch in an extended period of time, getting an opportunity and then getting a second opportunity, he gets a second full week of practice. I would expect him to be better.
What’s your confidence with rookie RT Kelvin Beachum going into Baltimore?
I think the good thing is that he lined up and played a significant portion of the game last week. That’s a good thing. It’s not a good thing that Mike [Adams] got hurt, but when he did, Beachum had to go in and play a significant number of plays, the majority of those having to be passing, and he held his own. He gets a full week of practice taking all the reps, and we need to make sure we’re looking out for him like we always do with those guys on the edges on either side. We expect him to step in and play at a high level.
Are you seeing anything out of G David DeCastro that leads you to believe he’ll be a factor this year?
I definitely think that he could be. Last week he got to go in and go through a bunch of reps and looked good. Yesterday, we got to have him in pads and he got through that practice well. I think every practice he gets through in a healthy manner and continues to get stronger and gain confidence is real good. I think the new rule is great and for him to be able to see some light at the end of the tunnel as opposed to normally, when something like that happens you’re done and there’s really nothing to look forward to but the offseason. I think he really worked hard to give himself an opportunity and now we’ll see how it goes. At least he’s in a position to take advantage of it.
What are the expectations for RB Jonathan Dwyer in his new role in terms of the amount of carries and how much you think you can get out of him?
I’m not looking at anything as a new role. Obviously, Jonathan is going to be the guy starting the game but I don’t think a whole lot will change as far as the guys who are rolling with it, will continue to roll with it. Jonathan just has to show that he can take the bulk of the carries without needing a break or taking a few plays off on the sideline. I think that will be what defines Jonathan as his career goes forward. He’s getting a great opportunity. We’re all excited and have been excited about a bunch of things he’s done. Hopefully, he goes in and takes this role seriously and won’t let us take him off the field.
Has that been an issue?
I just think he’s a guy who hasn’t been the workhorse since he’s been here. He’s gotten some opportunities, and he needs to prove he wants to be in and stay out there all the time.
With Batch, who has admitted he doesn’t have the arm strength he used to, does it limit what you can do with someone like WR Mike Wallace who is a guy who’s designed to take the top off the defense?
No, I think, as you saw last week, we threw the ball down the middle to Mike and Heath [Miller] behind the defense and it was a slight underthrow but there’s timing of the play, circumstances, having to step up, different things. I don’t think there’s any limitation as to what he can do or needs to do with the guys we have. Some guys can throw 80 yards, and some guys can throw it 50 yards. I was with Kurt Warner, and his max was 54 yards with two crow-hops. Those guys learn pretty early to get the ball out earlier. Speed is still going to be speed and you just have to understand it and he understands it more than anyone. When he’s going down the field he’s got to get the ball out fast.
Is Wallace being a co-starter with WR Emmanuel Sanders as much a tribute to Sanders as it is to any issues with what Wallace has been doing?
I definitely think that. Again, these guys will have roles and as the situations in the games come up. Depending upon play calls and packages we have, which we’ve been doing all year, we’ve had packages that have included Emmanuel and Jerricho [Cotchery] and all that will continue. Emmanuel has done a tremendous job with the opportunities he’s had and he just needs to continue to get better. I expect Mike to bounce back and make a bunch of plays for us here down the stretch.
Is the plan right now for Beachum to start at tackle and Ramon Foster to stay at right guard?
I won’t get into depth charts and however Coach Tomlin laid it out. But I’d say there’s a strong possibility that Beachum will be in there at right tackle.
Where did Baltimore give you problems the first time you played them this year?
We started the game the way we wanted to. We converted a third-down in our second possession and then fumbled the ball. That was killer. We had a punt returned on us for a touchdown. That was a killer. Offensively as the game wore on, third downs we just weren’t able to convert, especially in critical situations in that critical part of the field, the fringe in the plus-40, plus-45, that if you convert a third-down, you’re now in the scoring zone, and we have a good kicker in Shaun Suisham. We just weren’t able to convert those critical third downs that would have put us in the scoring range, whether it was to continue a drive and score or kick field goals. So we have to do a better job, especially in those critical situations. You can’t turn the football over, first and foremost, but when we get the ball in those areas of the field, we have to convert and stay on the field and put touchdowns on the field.
Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau
Re: Jason Worilds:
He is doing a good job. He actually had tremendous growth last year. He had to play well over half the snaps last year and started a lot of games. He would have been accelerated tremendously, except that he had the injury situation in the offseason. He missed the whole training camp. I would say the last month he has really come back to where he was at the end of last season, when he was coming on strong. We are looking for him to continue to grow and be productive for us. I think he leads our team in sacks right now. That’s indicative of the productivity he has when he is in there. He is going to get a lot of snaps with LaMarr Woodley recovering from an ankle injury.
Did you like what you saw last week from Worilds?
He has been playing stronger as we have gone along. I think that was just him coming back from an injury and getting back to where he was last year. Now he can get back into his normal growth cycle. In the first three years, you should grow tremendously. I think he is getting back on schedule for that.
Re: Possibly getting Troy Polamalu back:
I think it means a lot, getting leadership and stability out there again. Our guys have done a good job without him. I don’t think he will be able to be out there every snap but he is going to be able to take a significant role. Let’s face it, when you can have him on the field it’s a plus for us. We are looking forward to his return.
Do you have to be cautious with him?
He has been idle for a good while. I think you just want him to get back into complete game conditioning. He is in good shape. He has been able to run, and that’s how I think they judged if he was ready to come back, and not the after effects of hard workouts. His aerobic conditioning is good but I think his football conditioning needs some development. We will try to help him with that but it will be good to have him back.
Re: Your pass defense hasn’t struggled without him but he is a difference maker:
He makes plays only he can make. That’s no knock on anybody else. He is a rare player. He is always good to have in the game.
Why has your defense been successful this season without him, considering the only time your defense finished outside the top-10 was in 2009 when he missed most of the season?
I’d have to get my stats out. I don’t think we were far out, too low in 2009. These guys work hard and play together. I always think we are going to be a little better with him than without him but I think the other guys just stepped up and played hard. We are in a new mix. We should still keep growing out there. There is plenty of room to improve. They are going to keep fighting and working towards that proper ending.
Re: Getting more comfortable with the defense after losing veterans in the offseason:
Hopefully we are better than we were when we started. We have had some injuries and have had some guys that have stepped in. we’ve gotten valuable playing time from some of our young players that really hadn’t had much playing time and have now amassed some good, quality playing time. We are getting to be a more veteran bunch out there. We have a ways to go, but I am proud of the way they have worked and improved.
Do you expect the Ravens to change on offense, considering your defense contained Ray Rice last time the teams played?
I don’t think they are going to change at all. He is tough to hold. Our guys just had a really good game against him. He is part of the answer to holding them down on offense. He is such a great player. You look at their record. They aren’t going to change what they are doing.
But can you expect to hold him since you did before?
Well, you can expect it, but he is one of those players that are usually going to be productive. You have to keep him from dominating the game. That’s what you have to expect to do. I think he had 40 yards. That isn’t going to happen very often. We want to get after him and play him hard. I know our guys will. We are just going to try to keep him from dominating the game, which he can do if he gets off and has a good day.
When Polamalu is on the field, does that change what other players do?
I don’t think so. I just think there is a comfort in having him in the huddle. Everybody has seen where he has been and what he has done. His reputation is not a myth. He’s made the plays. That always has to be a plus for your defense.
Are you expecting the old Polamalu or a guy coming off of a long layoff?
I watched him move. I think he is moving real well. I think he will be able to make his plays. Experience is such a valuable thing. He isn’t going to lose any of that just because he hasn’t played for a while. I am sure if he is honest, it will take him a while to get his complete timing back but we are happy he is coming back.
Did the Ravens recent game change your mind on how to defend fourth-and-29?
[Laughs] Well, the simple truth of the matter is, in this league, anything can happen on any given snap. When you have a player like Rice, and he gets the ball under his arm with a little bit of space, he is pretty hard to get on the ground. They were all trying to get him on the ground. He just barely made enough to keep the game going but that’s why he is Ray Rice.
Does their offense seem more efficient at home?
I know their record would indicate they are more productive at home. I think everybody’s numbers are probably better at home. But this is a good, solid football team and a solid offense at home or away from home.
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How are you feeling?
|Fine, thank you.
How is the shoulder?
It’s doing okay. Getting better.
Is there any chance you’re going to play Sunday?
Yeah, there’s always a chance. We’ll go out and re-evaluate it again today and see how it feels after today.
Is pain the biggest issue right now?
I can play through a lot of pain. That is a little bit of it but mostly it’s just, to me, ability. Can I make a long throw? Can I put a lot of zip on the ball, throw it really hard before people like Ed Reed and defenders can get to the ball? Because if I can’t, then I’m not putting this team in the best situation to win the game.
Has the recovery process been what the doctors expected or quicker than they expected?
I don’t know. That’s probably a question for them. I’m just doing everything I can to get back. The training staff and doctors have been great. I’m just working to get back out there.
Have the doctors told you that you are safe from any type of damage to your heart?
This game we play, I don’t think you’re ever completely safe. According to them, it’s stable on the backside, which I think is posterior. Obviously, you can take a big hit and anything can happen. But from what I understand, that aspect of it is okay.
How was it throwing the ball yesterday? How far could you get it down the field? How much zip?
That was yesterday so we’ll see what today holds. I’m not 100% but we’re going to get as close as we can.
How much confidence does this team have in QB Charlie Batch?
A lot. I firmly believe that. They know what he’s capable of. He’s been doing it a long time. They respect him. I think he’s ready to rise to the occasion.
Re: Batch saying he was disappointed with his performance in Cleveland:
I think he holds himself to a high standard, like we all do. For him to say he was disappointed doesn’t surprise me because I know he wants to go out and play a great game and he expects himself to do that. I expect a big bounce-back game from him if it’s that time.
Will you have to wear any extra protection around your injured areas?
We’ve juiced up the shoulder pads a little bit and the trainers and equipment staff have put some protective padding and Kevlar stuff on the shoulder pads to help.
What about more protection for the ribs?
I always wear rib protectors that are low. Nothing to change there. Most of it’s just up higher in the shoulder pads.
How tough is it to evaluate your injury when you really want to be able to play?
I think that’s always something that as a player, and me in particular I have to evaluate when I’m injured, I want to be out there no matter what but not at the risk of hurting the team, if that makes sense. I don’t want to go out there and play so bad just to be out there and hurt the team and us not be good. It’s tough. It’s hard for me. You watched me during these games. I’ve been on the field more than most of the coaches because I’m just antsy to get out there. We’ll evaluate it and ultimately it will come down to coach’s decision.
Where are you in terms of pain compared to this point last week?
I’m better. I’m a lot better. I’m sleeping in the bed. I can only sleep in certain positions in bed but at least I’m in bed. It’s gotten better. To know that you’re just dealing with pain is something I can deal with. I can deal with pain.
It sounds like you being able to play is more based on your arm strength rather than a chance of being re-injured. Is that right?
Well, it’s a lot of things. What I’m going to evaluate today and in the next couple days is where am I. What throws can I make? What can’t I make? So, we go look at it heavy today.
Is part of the evaluation considering that one more week of rest might be better for the last four games?
Yeah, you could look at it that way. We’ve had people talk about last year in San Francisco. If I would have rested maybe I would have been better off the last couple games and stuff like that. To me, I live for the here and now and I’m going to do everything I can to be out there. If it doesn’t work, I’ll do everything I can to be out there next week.
Do you buy that an extra week last year would have helped you get healthier for the last few games of the season?
I don’t know. It could be. It could not be. Maybe I wouldn’t have healed up. Maybe I would have. I don’t know. I’m going to make sure I’m ready to go so I can help this team the best I can.
When do you start pushing yourself?
I’m going to do everything I can. I did some stuff yesterday and we’ll do some more today and tomorrow and every day.
Is there just a lack of arm strength or is there also pain when you throw?
Is the pain scar tissue tearing?
I don’t know. Sorry.
Is there more motivation to play this week since it’s Baltimore?
To me it doesn’t matter who it is, but it’s a divisional game. That gives you motivation. It’s Baltimore. So, yeah of course, there’s a little bit more in that.
Do you feel that if you won last week and the team was 7-4 there wouldn’t be as much of a need for you to try and play this week?
Well we want to win every game, so we’ll see what happens. These are all kind of crazy questions for me. Sorry.
Great. Thank you.
So, even with a newborn you are able to get some sleep?
I’m getting a little bit of rest, yes. [Laughs]
Are you able to help out with the baby?
I’m helping out as much as I can.
Have the doctors made any suggestions to you about coming back?
No. I just think they’re telling me the same thing that I think I’m telling you. If I’m wrong, I’m sure they’ll let you know. What I understand is it’s an evaluation. How do you feel pain-wise? What can you do and what can’t you do? What are you able to do? Like I said, can I throw the ball 30 yards, 40 yards or 50 yards? I think it’s just an evaluation thing by everybody.
How much input do you have in deciding if you can play, even if it is the doctors and coaches who may be making the final decision?
I hope I have a lot. I’m going to be honest with coach and I think he trusts me to be honest with him. I’m not going to go out there and tell him I feel great if I don’t. I think a lot of it is going to depend on that as well.
Re: The first week of being a father:
It’s pretty cool. You can tell people about it, but it’s something special.
What arm are you holding the baby with?
I can hold him both ways. Not as long in the right but I can hold him both ways.
Tags: Ben Roethlisberger
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