Adding Up the Numbers: A Rookie Impact On the Pittsburgh Steelers Running Game

Jonathan Cyprowski@@JCyprowskiCorrespondent IJune 7, 2010

ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 10:  Running back Jonathan Dwyer #21 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets rushes upfield against Andre Branch #40 and DeAndre McDaniel #2 of the Clemson Tigers at Bobby Dodd Stadium on September 10, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers finished the 2009 season with the 19th -ranked rushing attack in the NFL. Calling the ground game less than “Steeleresque” would be like beating a dead horse at this point.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, a poor offensive line, and a depleted backfield aside the rushing attack made for a frustrating season for players and fans wearing black and gold.

It’s a new season, and with it comes new opportunities to right the ship that went astray. With a new commitment to running the football handed down from team management it appears that the Steelers are going to attempt to get back to their roots.

First-round draft pick Maurkice Pouncey will help the running game, assuming the sometimes-brutal learning curve of the NFL is gracious to him.

Yet with all of the fanfare being given to Pouncey there is another rookie from the 2010 class that has the potential to make an immediate impact on the running game. Running back Jonathan Dwyer could be the addition to the backfield the Steelers have been needing.

The 5’11", 229-pound Dwyer was originally touted as one of the top two running backs in this year’s draft class coming out of Georgia Tech. With a subpar 40 time (4.64) and a broad jump under nine feet at the combine, the numbers began to raise questions for some NFL teams.

Dwyer would later run a faster 40 time (4.52) at his pro day, but only catching 15 passes and rarely being asked to pass block in the Georgia Tech triple-option offense did not alleviate the doubts that many teams had.

Still the Steelers may have looked at the numbers that seem to matter more. In three seasons at GT Dwyer ran the ball 517 times for 3,329 yards and 35 touchdowns.

Want more numbers? Those totals average out to 6.4 yards per carry, while his yards after first contact earned him the nickname Diesel.

Still hungry for numbers?

4.7. The fastest 40 time ever turned in by Pittsburgh’s beloved Jerome Bettis.

177 for 1,566. The number of catches and receiving yards Mewelde Moore has in the last six seasons.

Six. The number of touchdowns that came from those catches out of the backfield.

What do they all mean? It’s simple really. Having quick feet is not the same as having straight-line speed.

Bettis had what many called the quickest feet in football, but he never ran better than a 4.7.  Dwyer may not have the best straight-line speed going, but he is big, agile, and has a knack for fighting off tacklers and getting tough yards in a wide-open offense that often left him alone without a lead blocker. Sound familiar?

He only had 15 catches in college, but that doesn’t mean he can’t catch. Even more importantly Mewelde Moore can, and quite successfully at that. When you take all of these factors into account Dwyer is surrounded by the pieces to the puzzle that will allow him to be successful and to learn new facets of the pro game. A pro-style Chan Gailey ran at GT during Dwyer's freshman season in which he averaged 5.3 yards per carry backing up Dallas Cowboys running back Tashard Choice.

There is no question Rashard Mendenhall will be the starting tailback this season. He is coming off a 1,100-yard season in which he scored seven touchdowns and began to look like a premier back as he took over the starting job for Willie Parker.

Dwyer will not be asked to carry the load or even half of it. What he will be asked to do is be himself and to run with the tough, contact driven style he did in college.

Mendenhall has never really been the power runner he was forced to be when everyone tried to fit him into the power side of the Willie Parker “one-two-punch.” Mendenhall is a quick, agile runner that would rather turn the corner than take on contact. Getting a head full of steam and running someone over has never really been his style—which is precisely what Dwyer prides himself on doing. He breaks arm tackles and refuses to go down on the first hit, something the Steelers have been lacking in short yardage and goal-line situations.

If the Steelers line gels with Pouncey in the summer heat of Latrobe, the Steelers could be looking at a much improved running attack with Dwyer chewing up tough yards behind Mendenhall this season.


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