In the span of a few weeks and 20 pounds, Steelers 2010 sixth-round pick Jonathan Dwyer has gone from No. 2 back behind Rashard Mendenhall to possibly looking for work by the end of August. The former Georgia Tech star shined during OTAs in the spring, but apparently took a few months off, got fat, and reported to training camp out of shape.
Making matters worse: he either hasn’t practiced because of assorted minor injuries, or practiced poorly. And then he came down with an unspecified shoulder injury after a six-carry, eight-yard effort against the Lions last Saturday.
It’s not uncommon for rookies to struggle with the adjustment to NFL life. It happens every season across the league, and the Steelers typically let their young guys learn by watching during their first year. So Dwyer’s struggles aren’t necessarily a big deal. It’s just that his sluggish start, coupled with observations like this from Ed Bouchette make you wonder what the hell’s going through his head:
After watching spring practices, I thought Jonathan Dwyer had a chance to become the No. 2 back. After watching camp, I don’t think he’ll make the team. He had a tough start and the coaches were all over him, then he came on a little but an unspecified shoulder injury from the first game set him back again.
But there is one snapshot that stuck with me most of all. At one practice early this week, the Steelers were doing a 7 on 7 drill and Dwyer, not practicing because of his shoulder injury, stood with his offensive teammates behind the backfield. Every other offensive player watched the plays develop. Dwyer had his head in the clouds. He tried to engage some teammates in small talk and he actually turned his back on the plays a few times as he low-dee-dowed it.
Not a good sign for an injured rookie sixth-round draft choice already on the hot seat. As I watched, I remember something backfield coach Kirby Wilson told me early in camp, that Dwyer has to learn that football is important to him all of the time, not just once in a while.
And then you remember: he’s 21 years old. When I was 21 and just out of college, I was living in Boston with my then-girlfriend (I was promptly dumped a few months later!), answering phones during the day at a temp job, and drinking as much beer as possible between 5pm and 8am. And I’ll be honest: when I was working, I wasn’t exactly giving it my all.
Yes, I know, there’s a huge difference between potential NFL superstar and a secretary with training wheels. But we were both 21, distracted, and under the assumption that bad stuff only happens to other people.
Luckily, it’s hard to get fired from answering phones, even when you’re half-assing it, so I was in no danger of losing that gig. Probably had something to do with pulling down 10 bucks an hour and the guarantee that virtually anybody in that job was going to give minimum effort.
So right now, with three preseason games to go, Dwyer’s fate appears sealed. But maybe Mike Tomlin and the coaching staff have different ideas. They apparently loved him in May and June, and there is a need for running backs behind Mendenhall. The thing is, unlike strong safeties or franchise quarterbacks, running backs are — wait for it — fungible (hey, I’m nothing if not predictable). Perhaps somebody should let Dwyer in on that, tell him to get his head out of his ass, and start playing.
Alternatively, maybe this is just a conspiracy perpetrated by the organization to keep Dwyer from outplaying Mendenhall and creating a rift in the locker room.