Pittsburgh Steelers Used to Have a Bus, Now They Have a Diesel: Jonathan Dwyer

Bo MarchionteContributor IIISeptember 18, 2012

Dwyer leads Steelers in rushing after two weeks.
Dwyer leads Steelers in rushing after two weeks.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense can play a dual role in both the success and distress to a player with aspirations of getting drafted in the National Football League.

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer was one of those players who saw his draft stock slip even though his college production was as good as any running back in the country back in 2009.

As a true freshman at Georgia Tech, Dwyer finished second in rushing yards (436) and touchdowns (nine). During his sophomore season Dwyer emerged as one of top running backs in the nation, winning the ACC Offensive Player of the Year award by rushing for 1,395 yards averaging seven yards per carry.

The Marietta, GA native would duplicate that exact rushing total of 1,395 in his junior season, leading him to forgo his senior season and put his name in the hat to be drafted in the NFL.

The big-bodied, sometimes pudgy-looking Dwyer's weight hurt him, since the Yellow Jackets utilized him like fullback in their productive but unorthodox offense run by head coach Paul Johnson. With back-to-back 1,395-yard rushing seasons in his sophomore and junior campaigns, Dwyer’s third-to-fourth round NFL draft grade fell by the wayside, being selected in the sixth round in 2010.

Watching film of Dwyer play, it was very clear he was a powerful, quick-footed big man, but the triple-option offense and his weight weighed heavily on how teams perceived him at the professional level. Dwyer admitted, “fortunately the Steelers believed in me,” because his agent told him teams shied away from him because “of the offense I ran in” during his time as a Yellow Jacket.

Looking back, Dwyer recalls April 2010 when name after name was called out from the podium at the NFL Draft, Dwyer would hear 187 players selected before hearing the Pittsburgh Steelers call his name. “I was hoping to go to the Steelers,” after he realized they were close enough on the draft board to grab the guy who earned the college nickname of the "Diesel."

Entering his third year in the National Football League, Dwyer has looked impressive. Since OTA’s began this past spring, he has looked like the running back we saw in his time at Georgia Tech, finishing off plays during practice and carrying that over into live games where Dwyer lowers the boom and explodes into defensive players.

After two weeks, he finds himself leading the Pittsburgh Steelers in rushing yards with 71, making the most of the opportunity that has presented itself.

Last December, incumbent starter Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL, and while he is close to returning, Dwyer has seen his role increase along with teammate Isaac Redman.

“Where so blessed to play his game,” Dwyer said, adding, “the next game is no guarantee so I try to make every play like it’s my last.” It's so apparent watching him run that he runs angry, and the more he gets fed the football the stronger he gets. He admitte, like most running backs, that after a couple of carries the flow and feel of the game sinks in and the natural instinct to carry the football takes over.

“I like him,” said former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, who was at Heinz Field after the Steelers 27-10 victory over the New York Jets, adding, “he has great balance, he likes to keep the play alive, run physical and has good quickness.”

The Steelers second all-time leading rusher behind Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris, Bettis smiled, reflecting back to his days carrying the football, acknowledging “being a big back I’m proud to see we have another (big) running back that is able to carry the load.”

In his limited role early in 2012, Dwyer’s play cannot be discounted and I would guess that Steelers GM Kevin Colbert is looking at the former Yellow Jacket as a valuable commodity moving forward for the Steelers franchise. Certain running backs in the National Football League are simply fun to watch when they run with a vengeance looking to punish the defense. Dwyer’s game is emanating towards that style.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.

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