NFL Nation: Felix Jones

IRVING, Texas -- There was a time when the way the Dallas Cowboys ran their draft room was the envy of the league.

One of those years was back in 1991 and Mike Tanier of Sports on Earth ranked the Cowboys selecting Russell Maryland and Alvin Harper that year as ninth best on the all-time list of teams with two first-round picks.

The Cowboys actually had three first-round picks that year thanks to a deal with the Washington Redskins, but traded Kelvin Pritchett to the Detroit Lions for picks in the second, third and fourth rounds.

In Maryland, the top overall pick, the Cowboys got a vital piece to their vastly underrated defensive line. In Harper, the No. 12 pick, they got a complement to Michael Irvin who Norv Turner knew how to maximize.

In trading Pritchett, who had a solid career, the Cowboys got linebacker Dixon Edwards, guard James Richards and defensive end Tony Hill. Edwards was a starter, but Hill lasted two seasons and Richards didn’t make the team.

The Cowboys had two first-round picks in 1992, 2005 and 2008 as well.

In 1992, they took cornerback Kevin Smith (No. 17) and linebacker Robert Jones (No. 24), who became starters on Super Bowl teams. In 2005, they took outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (No. 11) and defensive tackle Marcus Spears (No. 20). Ware became the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks. In 2008, the Cowboys selected running back Felix Jones (No. 22) and cornerback Mike Jenkins (No. 25). Neither signed a second contract, although Jenkins had a Pro Bowl season.
PITTSBURGH – Add running back to the position at which the Steelers have a need.

Jonathan Dwyer has signed a one-year contact with the Arizona Cardinals, leaving the Steelers with depth issues behind Le’Veon Bell.

Dwyer wrote on his Twitter account on Wednesday night:

Dwyer, released at the end of the 2013 preseason, re-signed with the Steelers in September and rushed for 197 yards on 49 carries while backing up Bell.

Dwyer
Dwyer, ironically, will provide depth at running back for the Cardinals following the retirement of former Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall.

The only other running back on the Steelers' roster is Alvester Alexander, who spent all of last season on the practice squad.

Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling, who tore his ACL in the Steelers’ season opener last season, are both unrestricted free agents.

The Steelers have lost three free agents, with defensive end Al Woods signing with the Titans, tight end David Johnson signing with the Chargers and Dwyer becoming the latest former Steelers player to relocate to Arizona.

Broncos free agency primer: RB

March, 11, 2014
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With the countdown to free agency in its final hours, it's time to conclude the week-long look at the Denver Broncos' top needs in the open market.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsThe Broncos will lean on second-year player Montee Ball to be the lead running back in 2014.
The Broncos are expected to be aggressive and active once the signings formally begin Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, and have already taken a long look at Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward, as well as linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (he signed with the Indianapolis Colts). Their executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has repeatedly made clear he believes free agency is the time to shop for need and the draft is the time to secure potential long-term Broncos who were the best picks on the board when their picks arrived.

Plenty of folks around the league say they expect the Broncos to buzz in early for some specific targets and then back off to finish out with shorter-term deals weeks later after the initial waves of signings have passed. It was a profile they used last season when they moved quickly to sign Louis Vasquez, Wes Welker, Terrance Knighton and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and then waited to add players like Shaun Phillips, Stewart Bradley, Quentin Jammer and Steve Vallos.

Today: Running back

Why it's an issue: It's took Knowshon Moreno five seasons, two knee surgeries, a pile of ups and downs to go with a teetering roster spot when the Broncos opened 2013 training camp, but in the '13 season Moreno was everything the team hoped he would be all along.

He led the team in rushing, with 1,038 yards, scored 13 touchdowns overall, caught 60 passes and was the go-to guy at the position when it came to pass protection. Moreno was also the poster-child for perseverance and hard work in the team's running backs room.

He's also not expected back. Moreno is an unrestricted free agent and there is at least some feeling inside the Broncos' complex, they got every ounce of what Moreno had to give this past season. And that Montee Ball, selected in the second round of the 2013 draft, is ready to move to the front of the line.

Ball closed out last season with 120 carries for 559 yards while steadily improving his work as a receiver and as a pass protector when working out of the backfield in the team's three-wide receiver set. The Broncos want him to be the guy, and Ball has done the work to show them he wants to be the guy, too.

However, the Broncos need some depth, especially if they can't kickstart Ronnie Hillman. Hillman went from being handed the starting job last offseason to what the team considered pouting his way down the stretch when he was often a game-day inactive.

Hillman is the potential big-play guy at the position and still has a pile of un-tapped potential, but he has to show something in the offseason work as the Broncos' patience will wear thin if they don't see an uptick in both performance and preparation.

The Broncos had undrafted rookie C.J. Anderson on the roster last season, as well. And Anderson is a bigger back, but is seen as a rotation/situational player at the moment.

The best out there: Teams are not really looking -- ever -- to break the bank on older running backs in free agency, so there is at least a scenario where Moreno returns to the Broncos on a short-term -- one- or two-year deal -- if he doesn't find anything in the open market to his liking.

Overall, however, the Texans' Ben Tate, the Colts' Donald Brown, the Jaguars' Maurice Jones-Drew, the Raiders' Darren McFadden, the Raiders' Rashad Jennings, the Patriots' LeGarrette Blount, the Giants' Andre Brown, the Steelers Jonathan Dwyer, the Vikings' Toby Gerhart, the Steelers' Felix Jones and the Buccaneers' Brian Leonard lead what is a class full of question marks and plenty of injury history.

The 25-year-old Tate is the youngest of that group with the least wear and tear, but he also wants No. 1 back money and has already dubbed himself "elite" as the market was set to open. Jones-Drew is a former No. 1 coming off two injury-marred seasons, while Jones had just 48 carries for the Steelers last season and did not show the big-play speed he had when the Cowboys made him a first-round selection.

The rest of the backs in the groups, especially Blount, have flashed at times, but the Broncos aren't looking for a potential No. 1, but rather a back who can support their homegrown No. 1. The draft also factors in with the coming rookie class with some depth in the middle rounds for those willing to live with some growing pains that come with a younger player.

Bottom line: Free agency has not been kind to this high-impact position. As a result, the Broncos, with Ball set to be the lead guy, will take a look for a player who can take some carries from time to time and function in the team's offense, but they have bigger needs with bigger dollars to spend elsewhere on the depth chart.

IRVING, Texas -- Wade Phillips has the second-best winning percentage of any coach in Dallas Cowboys' history. Better than Tom Landry's. I think Phillips might know that.

On Thursday, Phillips tweeted this:



And later followed up with this addendum:



Like most things with Phillips, he lacked context.

When Phillips took over in 2007 as head coach, he inherited a team from Bill Parcells that was ready to win. QB Tony Romo was going into his first year as a full-time starter. The defense had DE DeMarcus Ware at his best. WR Terrell Owens was putting up big numbers.

The Cowboys went 13-3 and had the best record in the NFC. Phillips was the perfect antidote to Parcells and the players responded. Well, they did to a point. The Cowboys were not the same after beating the Green Bay Packers to move to 11-1 and effectively clinch home-field advantage.

They got lucky to beat the Detroit Lions the following week. They lost two of their last three games, but they were in shutdown mode against the Washington Redskins with nothing to gain from a win.

Other than momentum they had lost.

The Cowboys lost to the New York Giants in the divisional round at Texas Stadium, and the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl.

That's basically when the Romo narrative started. Maybe you heard that Romo went to Cabo during the wild-card weekend. Did it affect the outcome of the Giants' game? Of course not, but the perception machine was rolling, and has been rolling ever since.

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You can track most of the Cowboys' woes to that lost opportunity. If they simply beat the Giants and make the NFC Championship Game, things would be different. Could they have beaten the Packers for a second time at Texas Stadium? It's the best what-if of the Romo era.

In 2008, the Cowboys acted as if they were predestined to not only make the playoffs but win the Super Bowl. Go back and watch the "Hard Knocks" episodes, and you see a team full of itself. They finished 9-7, missed the playoffs and were a mess late in the season.

Phillips could not pull it all together and looked inept as he attempted to deal with the fallout from the Adam "Pacman" Jones' incident. Phillips earned a reprieve in 2009 when Dallas posted an 11-5 record, won the NFC East title, and recorded a playoff win -- but that was the high point.

The Cowboys went 1-7 to start the 2010 season, including an embarrassing home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and a gutless loss to the Packers (45-7) the following week. After that game, Jerry Jones made the switch to Garrett, and the Cowboys are 29-27 since and have not made the playoffs.

Garrett did not inherit a team ready to win the way Phillips did in 2007. By the time Garrett took over, the Cowboys were growing old on the offensive line, and there were too many people (especially those in offices at Valley Ranch) who believed they had the best talent in the league.

The head coach of the Cowboys has tremendous sway with Jones. The Cowboys did not take Randy Moss in 1998 at least in part because then-coach Chan Gailey didn't want Moss.

On that premise, the 2008 draft -- with Dallas' two first-round picks -- was a mess because the Cowboys didn't even attempt to re-sign those first-rounders (Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins) when their contracts expired. The 2009 draft was a colossal failure in part because Jones was convinced that it could be a "special-teams draft," which is as ludicrous as the "draft for backups" the team had when Barry Switzer was the coach in 1995.

This is not in defense of Garrett. He has made plenty of mistakes on the field and in the draft.

Phillips has had a tremendous career in the NFL that has spanned decades. He is a terrific coordinator, but is he in the same conversation as guys like Dick LeBeau, or even Monte Kiffin? I'm not sure a Phillips defense scared offenses the way LeBeau's defenses in Pittsburgh and Kiffin's defenses in Tampa Bay did. Phillips was a good head coach but could not get his teams in Denver, Buffalo or Dallas past a certain point.

Phillips knows his resume inside and out. He can cite team stats and all the Hall of Famers he has coached.

He can claim his tweet was more about the number of games he and Garrett have coached, but it looked more like a passive-aggressive shot at the guy who replaced him, and a way for him to remind everybody of his record.

By the way, his winning percentage is .607. Landry had a .605 winning percentage.

Cowboys hope for another takeaway feast

November, 20, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Only three teams have more takeaways than the Dallas Cowboys this season. The Seattle Seahawks have 26, the Kansas City Chiefs have 24 and the Carolina Panthers have 23.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Carr, Eli Manning
AP Photo/James D. SmithBrandon Carr was responsible for the game-clinching interception in the Cowboys' opener against the Giants, who turned the ball over six times.
In the midst of a horrible statistical season defensively, the Cowboys have forced 22 turnovers in their first 10 games.

The Cowboys got it all started the right way in their season opener against the New York Giants with six.

The Cowboys had three takeaways on the Giants’ first 10 snaps. DeMarcus Ware had an interception of Eli Manning on the first play. Barry Church forced a fumble on the sixth play and Will Allen intercepted Manning on the 10th.

On the second play of the second half, Church returned a fumble 27 yards for a touchdown. Later the Cowboys scooped up a muffed punt, and in the fourth quarter Brandon Carr iced the win with a 49-yard interception return for a score.

It was the 24th time the Cowboys forced six or more turnovers in a game in team history and the first time they had as many as six since Dec. 14, 2003, against the Washington Redskins.

Manning threw 15 interceptions in New York’s first six games -- all losses -- and he has been intercepted just twice since. He has only three touchdown passes in the Giants’ four-game winning streak.

The Cowboys get to see Manning again Sunday at MetLife Stadium for the rematch. Is it fair to expect a similar turnover game? Probably not.

"You always feel confident," coach Jason Garrett said. "That’s always a point of emphasis for us, to take the ball away. Just because we did it before that doesn’t give us an advantage of doing it now. You have to go out there and do the things necessary to get the takeaways. Typically it has a lot to do with executing and beating your guy and making plays on the football."

Some of the Giants look at the season-opening loss to the Cowboys as one they let slip away, despite the six turnovers. The Cowboys felt the same in the first regular-season game at AT&T Stadium in 2009. Tony Romo was intercepted three times and Felix Jones had a fumble, but with 3:46 to play they had a 31-30 lead and the defense could not make a stop.

Lawrence Tynes kicked a 37-yard field goal on the final play to beat the Cowboys, 33-31.

Grading the Steelers

November, 11, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- Marked improvement from the New England debacle.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t flashy, but he didn’t need to be in completing 18 of 30 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown. Roethlisberger threw a bad interception early in the game when Bills safety Jairus Byrd read him the whole way on a deep pass to Markus Wheaton. Byrd’s interception set up a field goal that gave Buffalo its only lead of the game. Grade: C+

Running backs: The Steelers stayed committed to the run, and as a result they rushed for 136 yards. Le'Veon Bell averaged just 2.6 yards per carry, but he scored a touchdown. Reserves Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones combined for 54 yards on 10 carries. Grade: B

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Brown
Receivers: Antonio Brown continues to build a strong case for the Pro Bowl, catching six passes for 104 yards. Brown set a team record for most receptions (67) through the first nine games of a season, but he needs a little more help. Emmanuel Sanders totaled just 13 yards on his four catches, and tight end Heath Miller was a non-factor in the passing game. Grade: B-

Offensive line: The Steelers used tackle Mike Adams as an extra tight end early and often, and the line more than held its own against Buffalo’s vaunted front. The Steelers’ 136 rushing yards were their second-most this season, and they shut out Bills sack maestro Mario Willliams. Williams, who entered the game with 11 sacks, did not even record a tackle against the Steelers. Grade: B

Defensive line: The Bills couldn’t establish the run, and it started up front for the Steelers. They controlled the line of scrimmage in holding the Bills to under 100 rushing yards and almost 50 below their season average. End Cameron Heyward, the third-year veteran who recorded a sack, has shined since becoming a starter. Grade: A-

Linebackers: Lawrence Timmons owned the middle of the field as he registered eight tackles and delivered a handful of jarring hits, including one on a sack of Bills quarterback EJ Manuel. The Steelers still aren’t getting enough pressure from their outside linebackers, though Jarvis Jones recorded his first career sack. Grade: B+

Secondary: The maligned unit bounced back in a big way after getting torched at New England. It allowed just two receptions of 10 yards or more, and the Steelers’ defensive backs were solid in tackling, whether it was after a catch or in run support. Ryan Clark's interception set up a field goal. Grade: A-

Special teams: Take away a couple subpar Mat McBriar punts, and this group was nearly flawless. Brown broke a big punt return for the third game in a row and Shaun Suisham was perfect on three field goal attempts. Four of Suisham’s six kickoffs went for touchbacks, though one also ended up out of bounds. The kick coverage teams were solid as usual. Grade: A-

Coaching: The Steelers were disciplined on defense, and they did not allow the Bills to run the ball. They stuck with the running game even though the offense got off to another slow start, and that commitment set up a second-quarter touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Jerricho Cotchery. The one negative: the Steelers had to settle for field goals after Brown’s punt return and Clark’s interception gave the offense short fields. Grade: A-
PITTSBURGH -- Antonio Brown leads the NFL with 61 receptions, but the fourth-year wide receiver is looking to do even more to help the Steelers bounce back after a disastrous first half of the season.

Wallace
Brown
“Maybe I need to find a way to help us win,” Brown said, “whether that’s taking a punt back, any difference to change the outcome of the game.”

Brown has been close to breaking a punt return for a touchdown, nearly scoring two weeks ago in Oakland and following a 44-yard punt return against the Raiders with a 24-yarder against the Patriots.

Next up for the Steelers is a Bills team that has struggled to cover punts.

Buffalo is 27th in the NFL in opponents’ punt return average (11.6 yards).

“We’ve been so close to popping one of these returns for a touchdown,” said linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, who is on the kickoff and punt return teams. “We’ve got to get A.B. free. We’ve got to get him in the end zone.”

Coach Mike Tomlin would no doubt be in favor of that as the Steelers have struggled to score touchdowns this season despite getting four of them in the 55-31 loss to the Patriots.

The Steelers have also been close to breaking big returns on kickoffs.

Felix Jones has a pair of returns of at least 40 yards, and Emmanuel Sanders came within inches of a 107-yard kickoff return against the Ravens.

Brown is the most obvious candidate to reach the end zone. He is 11th in the NFL in punt return average (10.4 yards) and is dynamic in the open field.

Sylvester said the punt return team has made it a goal to spring Brown for at least one touchdown return in the second half of the season.

“He’s due for a couple,” Sylvester said of Brown. “He’s been so close to breaking them. We’ve got to get him free.”

Tomlin open to Steelers making a trade

October, 29, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers have already made two trades this season, and coach Mike Tomlin hasn’t ruled out the team making more moves before the 4 p.m. ET trading deadline today.

Tomlint
Tomlin
“I’m open to it,” Tomlin said of the Steelers making a trade. “We’ll see.”

The Steelers earlier traded for running back Felix Jones and left tackle Levi Brown, and Tomlin said he is open to evaluating any position as the team tries to bounce back from a 2-5 start.

Tomlin has already made changes in his starting lineup, and the latest one is at right outside linebacker.

Jason Worilds has moved ahead of rookie Jarvis Jones there. Tomlin benched Mike Adams after the fourth game of the season and Kelvin Beachum has started the past three games at left tackle.

Brown suffered a season-ending shoulder injury before playing a game for the Steelers.

Zoltan Mesko’s future with the team has been a source of speculation, and Tomlin sent mixed signals when it comes to the Steelers’ punter.

Inconsistency continues to plague Mesko as he bobbled a snap against the Raiders that resulted in a partially blocked punt and also had a 30-yard kick. But the left-footer also boomed several kicks in the 21-18 loss at Oakland, including one that the Steelers downed at the Raiders 1-yard line.

“Obviously he needs to perform better,” Tomlin said. “But along with the obvious negativity in the game I did think he rebounded well and really finished the game strong.”

When asked specifically if the Steelers are considering bringing in a replacement for Mesko, Tomlin said, “I’m not opposed to evaluating anyone at any position that’s capable of helping us get better.”

Teams typically work out free agents and evaluate them in the early part of the week, and Tomlin said, “We’re probably going to do some of that this week.”

Without Murray, Dallas RBs to be tested

October, 14, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – DeMarco Murray did not talk with reporters on Monday to address the condition of the sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, but a source has indicated that it is unlikely the running back will play Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Without Murray, the Cowboys will have to figure out a way to run the ball effectively, which is something they did not do during the 2012 season.

In the six games without Murray because of a sprained foot, the Cowboys ran for 368 yards on 123 carries, good for three yards a carry (if we round up from 2.99). Felix Jones' high mark during that run was 71 yards on 16 carries against the Eagles, but twice he failed to rush for 20 yards in a game.

Rookie Joseph Randle would get the first crack at the full-time job for however long Murray misses. Lance Dunbar has a hamstring injury and has yet to run since getting hurt in the Denver game. Phillip Tanner is the only other back on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys are contemplating adding a running back to the practice squad if Dunbar is unable to play against the Eagles.

Randle had just 17 yards on 11 carries against the Redskins, but Jason Garrett will not condemn the numbers because of how Washington was selling out to stop the run late in the game.

“You’ve got to be careful about evaluating those rushing attempts and the yards we had and the average we had in the ball game,” Garrett said. “There were circumstances involved in that. Having said all that, we’ve got to be able to run the football better. We have to be able to run the football well when DeMarco Murray is not our runner. That’s last night, but that’s also in recent history. We just have to put the next guy in there. We gave Joseph Randle some chances in the ballgame. He did some positive things. He was strong running the football. But he took care of the ball well. He was in some of those situations at the end of the game where it’s difficult. They have eight and nine and 10 man fronts up there, trying to get the ball back. I thought he handled himself well there. It didn’t seem too big for him. But as much as anything else, running the football has a lot to do with your whole offense -- your ability to knock them off the ball up front, your tight ends blocking, your receivers blocking as well as the runner.”

Steelers badly need Bell to emerge at RB

September, 24, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said rookie running back Le'Veon Bell “perked up dramatically” late last week in practice.

Will his expected return to action have the same effect on a running game that has been one of the NFL’s least productive ones through the first three games of the season?

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicLe'Veon Bell looked good in training camp, but logged just four carries in the preseason before getting injured.
Tomlin did not commit to Bell starting against the Vikings, and the seventh-year coach said practice will dictate how much the latter plays in the international game that pits a pair of teams off to awful starts against one another.

Assuming Bell does not suffer a setback that would delay his return until after the bye, he can only help as the Steelers try to dig their way out of a very unSteelers-like 0-3 start.

Bell shined during training camp and looked well on his way to opening the season as the Steelers’ starting running back. Then knee and foot injuries sidelined the player who had never been hurt in college or high school.

The restart to Bell’s NFL career comes at a time when Felix Jones, who never fulfilled expectations in Dallas and was deemed expendable by Philadelphia, is atop the depth chart at running back.

Jones, whom the Steelers traded for on Aug. 23, is also the team’s leading rusher with 71 yards -- or seven less than Vikings running back Adrian Peterson had on his first carry of the season.

The former first-round pick has been a nice find by the Steelers and is averaging a healthy 4.2 yards per carry. But Jones is the bridge, albeit a dependable one, until Bell is ready to assume a workload befitting a starting NFL running back.

The Steelers will ease Bell back into action, and it is worth noting that he has only flashed potential to this point -- and had all of four carries in the preseason before going down with a mid-foot sprain.

But if Bell is as good as advertised he will again be given every opportunity to seize the job of feature back. And the Steelers badly need Bell to emerge as they have rushed for less than 100 yards in nine consecutive games dating back to last season.

Isaac Redman, who opened the season as the starting running, has slid to fourth on the depth chart. Jones and Jonathan Dwyer can help the running game but neither can carry it.

The Steelers drafted Bell in the second round last April to do just that.

And his NFL debut can’t come any sooner for a team that is averaging 51.7 rushing yards per game.

W2W4: Bears at Steelers

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
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CHICAGO BEARS (2-0) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (0-2)

7:30 p.m. CT Sunday at Heinz Field on NBC

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 2

September, 17, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- An examination of four hot issues from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 20-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

[+] EnlargeFelix Jones
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanSteelers RB Felix Jones earned praise from coach Mike Tomlin after Monday night's game.
Stuck in neutral: The Steelers’ running game is a mess, and coach Mike Tomlin said no one is above blame for the team's 75 rushing yards in two games and its paltry 2.4 yards per carry average. The offensive line has to win more one-on-one battles, and the running backs have to take better advantage of the creases they do get. Tomlin did not say who will start Sunday at running back against the Chicago Bears, but he strongly indicated that Felix Jones will get the nod. Jones rushed for only 37 yards on 10 carries at Cincinnati, but Tomlin liked the decisions the sixth-year veteran made while running against one of the better front sevens in the NFL. “I was encouraged by some of the things Felix Jones was able to do,” Tomlin said, “and will be able to do moving forward.”

Biding their time: Running back Jonathan Dwyer received just one carry against the Bengals, a team he gashed for 122 rushing yards in the AFC North rivals’ first meeting last season. Rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton also played sparingly on Monday night, and the third-round draft pick is still in search of his first NFL catch. Tomlin said the limited roles had little to do with Dwyer and Wheaton and could be mostly attributed to the Steelers running 55 plays compared to 79 for the Bengals. More than 20 of those plays came when the Steelers ran their no-huddle offense, which doesn’t allow them to substitute. As a result there were very few opportunities left for reserves such as Dwyer and Wheaton. “We’re just not getting enough snaps,” Tomlin said.

Staying within yourself: Free safety Ryan Clark did not sugarcoat the Steelers’ first 0-2 start under Tomlin. On the contrary, Clark said the Steelers won’t win a game this season if they don’t get better. What troubled Clark after the Steelers gave up more than 400 yards of total offense against the Bengals and did not register a sack or force a turnover is that the defense got away from the disciplined approach that has been vital to its success. The concern moving forward is that the offense’s struggles will put even more pressure on the defense and that some players will take it upon themselves to try and make something happen. “Once you start doing that then you get out of position, you leave a gap and they get four yards on first down,” Clark said. “For us it’s about doing what we’re taught no matter the score. We can’t scoreboard watch.” Said Tomlin, “We’re capable of fixing these things. We can’t overreact.”

Not all was bad: Special-teams play, shaky during the preseason, was an unequivocal bright spot for the Steelers in their loss at Cincinnati. Jones and Antonio Brown turned in long kickoff and punt returns, respectively. The Steelers' kick coverage teams, meanwhile, bottled up Brandon Tate and Adam Jones, allowing a total of 44 return yards. Rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones has been a beast on special teams. He and the rest of the Steelers' special-teamers will be tested Sunday night. Chicago’s Devin Hester is one of the best kick returners in NFL history.

Jonathan Dwyer could be upgrade at RB

September, 9, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- Another injury at running back led to the Steelers bringing Jonathan Dwyer back to Pittsburgh. The sorry state of the ground game may compel coach Mike Tomlin to play Dwyer if not feature him when the Steelers visit Cincinnati next Monday night.

The Steelers generated next to nothing on the ground in their season opener, and starting running back Isaac Redman fumbled twice, losing one of them after the offense had driven inside the Titans 10-yard line.

Redman spent considerable time on the sidelines after the second fumble, and he may not have gotten back into the game had LaRod Stephens-Howling not gone down with a knee injury.

When asked after the 16-9 loss to the Titans whether he expects to start against the Bengals, Redman said, “Coach Tomlin told me on the sidelines he still has all the confidence in the world, so we’ll see.”

The competition at running back will at least be wide open this week in practice, and there is no reason why the Steelers shouldn’t give Dwyer a long look.

He was the Steelers’ most talented runner when they released him on Aug. 31 and instead kept the recently acquired Felix Jones.

And the Steelers don’t have many other options until rookie Le’Veon Bell returns from a mid-foot sprain, an injury that could sideline the second-round draft pick for a couple of more games.

Jones probably takes over as the Steelers’ third-down back with Stephens-Howling out for the rest of the season.

That leaves Dwyer, who led the Steelers with 623 yards last season, and Redman to battle for the starting job. And the latter certainly didn’t help himself with his ball-security issues against the Titans or the 9 yards he mustered on 8 carries.

Another signing on Monday provided clarity on the offensive line and probably immediate help for the beleaguered unit.

Fernando Velasco started 13 games at center for the Titans last season, and the 6-foot-4, 320-pounder looks like the obvious choice to step in for Maurkice Pouncey.

Cody Wallace, whom the Steelers signed on Sept. 1, is better suited to provide depth at center and guard. Kelvin Beachum, who took over at center for the injured Pouncey on Sunday, is more valuable as the Steelers’ top reserve along the offensive line.

They also want to use Beachum as a sixth lineman/eligible receiver, at least until starting tight end Heath Miller returns from reconstructive knee surgery.
PITTSBURGH -- The starting job at running back, at least for now, became Isaac Redman's as soon as the Pittsburgh Steelers cut Jonathan Dwyer.

Redman
Redman
Coach Mike Tomlin and his staff simply have no other viable starting options with Le'Veon Bell out and Felix Jones still trying to find his way around Pittsburgh.

Jones has looked terrific, and better than the Steelers could have hoped when they acquired him from the Eagles. But the sixth-year veteran has been with the team little more than a week and is still learning the offense.

Jones' speed and burst figure to be a good complement to Redman's power, and LaRod Stephens-Howling looks secure in the role of third-down back, giving the Steelers another chance-of-pace runner.

The player Redman ultimately has to worry about losing most of his carries to is Bell.

The Steelers will give the rookie second-round draft pick every opportunity to win the job of feature back -- something the former Michigan State star was on his way to doing until knee and foot injuries sidetracked him.

Redman said Monday that he plans to make the most of his opportunity. Probably Redman's most realistic hope is that he plays well enough to convince the coaches that he should be a part of the running game even after Bell is ready to take over as the starter.

In other words, fantasy owners, don't rush to add Redman to your team unless you need a short-term fix at running back.

If Redman needed a reminder as to how quickly things can change in the NFL, the fourth-year veteran got it last Sunday when the Steelers waived Dwyer, who led the team in rushing in 2012 and this preseason.

“He was a good player, a good kid, no problems around here character-wise, and I just wish him the best of luck,” Redman said. "It's the nature of the game."
The Philadelphia Eagles’ waiver-wire spree didn’t really materialize Sunday. The team was awarded just one player, former Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Shaun Prater.

One possible reason for the relatively light activity: The Jacksonville Jaguars, who are two spots higher than the Eagles on waiver claims, were awarded a stunning seven players. That included two players, DE/LB Chris McCoy and TE Clay Harbor, who were released by the Eagles.

Prater is 5-foot-10, 190 pounds. A fifth-round pick out of Iowa last year, Prater spent his rookie season on injured reserve with patellar tendinitis. He is not expected to be a factor right away. The Eagles will roll with Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher (who played with Prater at Iowa) outside and Brandon Boykin in the slot.

But at least Prater can practice and play. To make room for him, the Eagles released Curtis Marsh, another member of their disastrous 2011 draft class. Marsh had surgery on his broken hand last month and was not available for the last two preseason games.

A couple of other roster-related notes:
  • The Eagles signed four players to their practice squad, all of whom were released over the weekend: OT Michael Bamiro, RB Matthew Tucker, WR Greg Salas and LB Travis Long. They have four more spots to fill.
  • Didn’t do too poorly on my projected 53-man roster, which was posted Friday morning. I had 48 players right. And where I was incorrect, I might have been right in a couple of spots where the Eagles turn out to be wrong.I had McCoy staying and Casey Matthews going. We’ll see how that one turns out.

    I had Salas and Russell Shepard among six wide receivers. The Eagles kept five, including Jeff Maehl. That’s two Oregon guys who made the team that I didn’t expect.

    I thought they’d keep 10 offensive linemen, including Matt Tennant. They went light there, cutting Tennant, and kept one more tight end than I expected: Emil Igwenagu.

    Finally, they kept two more DBs than I expected. One was Colt Anderson, who will play only on special teams. The other was Marsh, who was released today. So maybe I had 4.5 players wrong.
  • Roseman made two trades involving a running back for a linebacker. He got Emmanuel Acho, who made the team, for Dion Lewis, who is on IR in Cleveland. And he got Adrian Robinson, who was cut Friday, for Felix Jones, who made the Steelers roster.
  • The Eagles were off today and have some conditioning work scheduled for Monday. They’ll be off again Tuesday. The practice week for Monday night’s game at Washington begins in earnest on Wednesday.

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