NFL Nation: Jonathan Dwyer

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The avalanche of off-field stories continued for the Arizona Cardinals when running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested Wednesday on assault charges.

Being asked about contracts, injuries, play-calling and, now, a teammate’s legal issues, has become routine for the Cardinals.

Foote
Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
"We move on," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "It’s not a distraction. It will not be a distraction. Our team’s kinda gotten used to what everybody else would consider a distraction, and get ready for a huge football game this Sunday."

The Cardinals have answered a lot of questions, but not many about the 49ers, who come to University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday.

The series of off-the-field stories came full circle Friday when linebacker John Abraham was put on injured reserve because of a concussion he suffered in Week 1. Abraham started the list of off-the-field stories when his June arrest on suspicion of DUI in Atlanta was reported during the first few days of training camp.

Since then:
Veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald doesn’t think he has seen this many off-field stories this early in a season in the first 10 years of his career.

"Adversity, it comes in all different sizes, shapes and forms," Fitzgerald said. "You have to be able to deal with it. Everybody’s dealing with it in some way or form. We got this type of issue here. Washington’s dealing with injuries.

"It’s all different. But come Sunday, it doesn’t matter. The best team has to come out there and win."

As far as Arizona’s on-field performance goes, the Cardinals are 2-0, having won with two different starting quarterbacks. Arians said the off-field issues haven’t strayed onto the Cardinals’ practice field this week. He called Wednesday and Thursday’s practices "great."

Larry Foote, a 13-year veteran, said Arizona needs to approach Dwyer’s absence like an injury: Next man up.

"We just got to keep rolling,” he said.

Fitzgerald said Arizona’s focus hasn’t waned.

"It hasn’t changed one bit," Fitzgerald said. "If anything, it’s even sharper.

"You come in the locker room (Thursday), I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this kind of media contingency here at the Cardinals, Thursday, Week 3. It’s just like the Super Bowl a couple years ago. We understand that there’s a lot of eyes on us. We have to [home] in. We have to have that bunker mentality. We got to just rely on each other and fight for each other."
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The last time injury propelled Jonathan Dwyer into the starting lineup, he had a career season.

Dwyer
As Rashard Mendenhall's backup in 2012 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dwyer played in 13 games and started six, running for 623 yards and two touchdowns -- the only scores of his career. He shone in those six starts, totaling 391 yards.

Another injury may give Dwyer another chance to start.

Arizona Cardinals starting running back Andre Ellington missed Friday's practice because of a left foot injury. He had an MRI on the foot Thursday. While Ellington's status for Arizona's season opener Monday night is still in flux, Dwyer, who's No. 2 on the depth chart, is preparing to be introduced in prime time.

"I look at it as just [running backs] coach Stump [Mitchell] does a good job of getting us all prepared mentally and we all have the mentality if you prepare every week, every day, like we're going to be the starter because you never know what could happen," Dwyer said.

"Fortunately, this happened in practice. This could happen in a game. You never know. It's kinda like you always have to prepare that way."

Behind Ellington were three running backs with three different styles and body types. Dwyer can take a pounding between the tackles but is quick enough to bounce outside to the goal line, as he showed during preseason. Stepfan Taylor is the smallest of the backups. He's tough but can move in space better than the other two and is probably the best pass protector of the group. Robert Hughes is the biggest of the backups but has established his role as more of a fullback than running back.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians didn't speak to the media Friday, which was reserved for coordinators.

Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin wouldn't comment on Ellington's status but said whoever takes Ellington's place, if he can't go, will be capable.

"These are NFL players," Goodwin said. "They'd better be ready to play no matter what. Everybody has qualities and things they can do, just take advantage of that. Right now, it is what it is."

Earlier this week, Arians said "it's fun to draw up plays for him [Ellington] because he can do damn near anything." But neither Taylor nor Dwyer think the play calling will be changed drastically if Ellington doesn't play. There may be fewer screen passes to set them up in space and Ellington's replacement may not line up out wide. The offensive line won't have to change their blocking schemes to counter a lineup change, either.

Last season, Ellington ran for 652 yards on 118 carries and three touchdowns, while catching 39 passes for 371 passes and a touchdown.

"Obviously, there's some things we might have to tweak, but I think all of us will be able to do the same things," Dwyer said. "We're all capable of doing everything.

"All of us are every-down backs, and we'll be ready for the challenge."

Dwyer said he didn't know the timeline for Ellington's return but is excited for an opportunity in prime time, if he's given it.

In his first career start in Week 7 of 2012 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Dwyer ran for 122 yards -- one short of his 2011 total. The next week he ran for 107. He had 17 carries in each of those games, which, combined, was more than his first two seasons.

The difference between starting and being a backup to Dwyer is simply getting more carries. And Dwyer has shown what he can do given the extra opportunities.

"To be honest, all it does is you just start," he said. "You're just starting a game. The main thing is you just try to make sure there's no drop-off in talent. We already have that secured in our room. There's no drop-off. We all can play. We all can make big plays. It's just, I know we'll get more opportunities, and we're going to take advantage of it."

Antonio Brown climbs in #NFLRank

August, 26, 2014
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Antonio Brown finished second in the NFL with 1,499 receiving yards and 110 receptions in 2013 yet he is only the 14th-ranked wide receiver on the ESPN.com list of the top 100 offensive players.

Brown is No. 38 overall, a number that is hard to fathom since the fifth-year veteran made the Pro Bowl last season as both a wide receiver and a returner.

Wallace
Brown
Brown joined DeSean Jackson (2010) as the only players to make the Pro Bowl at two different positions in the same season. It should be noted that Brown made one of the biggest jumps in the top 100, moving up 57 spots.

Among the wide receivers ahead of Brown in the latest release of ESPN.com’s top 100 player on offense and defense are the Buccaneers’ Vincent Jackson (No. 37), the Packers’ Jordy Nelson (No. 35) and the Bears’ Alshon Jeffery (No. 32).

Getting overlooked is nothing new for Brown.

The two-time Pro Bowler lasted until the 195th pick of the 2010 draft, and he wasn’t even the Steelers’ first sixth-round pick that year.

The Steelers took Brown after selecting running back Jonathan Dwyer earlier in the sixth round.

All Brown has done since then is make the Pro Bowl as a kickoff returner, punt returner and wide receiver and twice won the Steelers’ MVP Award. He also holds team records for most receiving yards in a season as well as most all-purpose yards in a season (2,211 in 2011).

I’m guessing the Steelers don’t think there are 13 wide receivers better than Brown.

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 7

August, 2, 2014
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:
  • The battle of the day was at left guard between Jonathan Cooper, the expected starter, and Earl Watford, who has been the backup at right guard. Before Saturday’s practice, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he was “disappointed” with where Cooper’s progress is a week into training camp. Cooper and Watford began alternating snaps, but toward the end of practice they alternated series.
  • Saturday was the Cardinals’ Fan Fest, which meant live hitting, and the Cardinals ran a goal-line drill at the end of practice. Jonathan Dwyer looked good throughout practice, running in a couple touchdowns, including on a pretty sweep to the right.
  • Tight end John Carlson appears to be atop the depth chart and he has earned it. Carlson has been making catches all camp and that continued Saturday with a series of grabs off the hand of Carson Palmer.
  • With John Brown’s hamstring holding him out of practice Saturday, Brittan Golden became the Cardinals’ fourth wide receiver and Andre Ellington lined up as the fifth receiver.
  • Cornerback Antonio Cromartie returned to practice.
  • Quarterback keepers were emphasized throughout practice. Logan Thomas ran for a touchdown after rolling out to the right and keeping it uncontested. Later in practice, back-up quarterback Drew Stanton outran the defense on a keeper down the left sideline.
  • Saturday was rookie Chandler Catanzaro's day to kick and he went 7-for-8, missing a 49-yard field goal that was part of a drive.
  • Reggie Dunn returned punts Saturday, ahead of Ted Ginn.
  • Golden also lined up at gunner across from Justin Bethel.
  • A few leftovers from Arians' Saturday news conference: Thomas hasn’t yet won the third-string job over Ryan Lindley, Arians said, citing the fact that he has seen Lindley throw for a year-and-a-half and Thomas since May. ... The Cardinals won’t watch tape of the Houston Texans in preparation for their preseason game next Saturday because Houston plays a similar defense.
  • The Cardinals are off Sunday and their next public practice will be 2 p.m. PT Tuesday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 4

July, 29, 2014
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:

• He’s been one of the talks of camp, but Michael Floyd put his offseason improvement on display Tuesday. On one pass, Floyd got a step behind cornerback Patrick Peterson for a touchdown that sailed in just beyond Peterson’s reach. Floyd then hauled in another score over cornerback Justin Bethel. Earlier Tuesday, quarterback Carson Palmer praised Floyd’s size and his ability to overpower cornerbacks, which was the case Tuesday. Bethel is listed as 6-0 and Peterson 6-1, but Floyd played taller and bigger than the 6-2, 220 pounds he’s listed as.

• Arizona got a look at a few backups that were called upon in a pinch. With RB Andre Ellington (neck) and CB Antonio Cromartie (pectoral) out Tuesday, RB Stepfan Taylor and CB Jerraud Powers were inserted into their respective first-team spots. NT Christian Tupou (groin), who was already replacing Dan Williams, was replaced by a combination of players, including Anthony McCloud.

≺ Taylor filling in for Ellington was telling in terms of the battle for the second running back job. It’s between Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer, but with head coach Bruce Arians’ decision to run Taylor with the starters, it appears that he’s leading the backup running back race. The importance of winning the second spot this year is greater than past years because of Arians’ decision to use more two-back sets.

• Arians got what he wanted when it came to adding speed to the offense. On at least two occasions, Ted Ginn and John Brown had to slow down to haul in a Carson Palmer pass. That speed could be a blessing and a curse. Last season, Palmer had a knack for slightly underthrowing receivers, forcing them to come back for passes. Ginn and Brown will have to learn how to time their runs perfectly with Palmer’s passes.

• Rookie safety Deone Bucannon secured an interception that got the crowd riled up.

• Rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who Arians praised Tuesday morning for being perfect through camp, missed three kicks in row during the afternoon practice. The three he missed were end-over-end kicks, different from his regular kicks. By my count, Catanzaro went 7-for-10, missing field goals from 41, 47 and 48 yards.

• After Catanzaro came off the field, special teams coordinator Amos Jones pulled his young kicker off to the side for a short talk near a water cooler. By Catanzaro’s body language, it was clear he wasn’t happy with himself.

Camp preview: Pittsburgh Steelers

July, 17, 2014
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» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation’s Scott Brown examines the three biggest issues facing the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into training camp:

Continued growth on offense: The Steelers averaged 26.6 points in winning six of their final eight games last season, and the foundation is in place for them to build on that. It all starts with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who didn’t miss a snap last season and is still in the prime of his career. Roethlisberger never looked more in control than when he was running the no-huddle offense, something the Steelers did frequently in the second half of the season. The offseason practices were critical for Roethlisberger and new wide receivers (Lance Moore) and younger ones (Markus Wheaton) to work together in the no-huddle offense. Roethlisberger said the Steelers will add to their no-huddle playbook during the offseason and training camp before picking the best plays. He must be in sync with the wide receivers; Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery must be replaced for the no-huddle attack to hum again. Repetitions during training camp and preseason practice are critical, especially because the players will be in pads and hitting one another. That means the Steelers’ wide receivers especially have to stay relatively healthy during the most important time for team building, developing a rapport with Roethlisberger and earning his trust.

Getting after the quarterback: The Steelers managed just 34 sacks last season, their lowest total since 1990, and they must get more production from their outside linebackers. Jason Worilds supplanted LaMarr Woodley at left outside linebacker the second half of last season and led the Steelers with eight sacks. Worilds, hampered by a nagging calf injury during offseason practices, has to show that he can be a pass-rushing force for more than half a season. The former second-round pick has no one blocking his path to the field with Woodley now in Oakland. Jarvis Jones has to justify the Steelers using the 17th overall pick of the 2013 draft on him. The former Georgia All-American managed just one sack as a rookie but has improved his strength both physically and in regard to his grasp of the playbook. Jones also has Joey Porter mentoring him, and the Steelers will give Jones every opportunity to succeed. Depth is a concern at outside linebacker, so in addition to providing a consistent pass rush, Worilds and Jones have to stay healthy. If general manager Kevin Colbert is looking to add depth, Steelers fans will be quick to remind him that James Harrison is only a phone call away. What would most help the defense, however, is if Jones can provide the same kind of pass rush that Harrison supplied from the right side of the Steelers’ defense when Harrison made the Pro Bowl in five consecutive seasons.

Improving their run game and rushing defense: The Steelers struggled running the ball and stopping it in 2013. Both still matter, even at a time when NFL teams are slinging the ball early and often and using the pass to set up the run. Le’Veon Bell should improve on his 3.5 yards per carry in his second season, and the Steelers have improved their overall talent at running back. LeGarrette Blount is a significant upgrade over Jonathan Dwyer and third-round pick Dri Archer is a burner who gives the Steelers a home-run threat in the backfield. The Steelers should significantly improve on the 86.4 rushing yards they averaged in 2013. Not as certain is whether the Steelers will be appreciably better in stopping the run after yielding 115.6 rushing yards per game last season. Nose tackle Steve McLendon has gotten bigger and appears ready to assert himself this season, but defensive end opposite Cameron Heyward is a question mark. First-round pick Ryan Shazier should be an upgrade at weakside inside linebacker, but he will inevitably endure some rookie struggles, even if he is ready to start this season. Everything with the Steelers’ defense starts with shutting down the run, so it has to do a much better job this season.
Bruce AriansAP Photo/Ross D. FranklinArizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians will get a look at his full team Tuesday when OTAs begin.
This time last year, the buzz around the Cardinals was about a new coach with a new culture and a new scheme. This year, it’s about how do the Cardinals make the playoffs?

As the Cardinals’ offseason team activities (OTAs) begin Tuesday, there’s a lot to ponder from the past year and much to speculate on going forward. The next month will begin determining the fate for a lot of players on the current 90-man roster. As Cardinals coach Bruce Arians loved saying last year, this is when they have to put it on tape.

Here are 10 observations as the Cards begin OTAs:

  1. The top three running backs are established with Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer sitting atop the depth chart, but after that is a major drop-off. As of now, there isn’t is a viable option for the fourth back, which was occupied by Alfonso Smith a season ago. He’s gone and so is Ryan Williams, leaving the fourth spot up for grabs. That running back, however, may not be on the field Tuesday.
  2. There’ll be a lot of eyes on the newcomers this offseason, such as quarterback Logan Thomas, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, safety Deone Bucannon and left tackle Jared Veldheer. But the most intriguing position battle of the offseason starts Tuesday with two returning offensive linemen at right tackle. Arizona hasn’t re-signed Eric Winston for a reason: It wants to see what Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie can do. The two were college teammates at Ole Miss but neither are the clear-cut choices to assume the starting job. There have been questions about Massie’s ability to pick up the playbook for the last few seasons and Sowell was able to hold his own at left tackle last season but there’s a reason Arians didn’t keep him there. It’s yet to be seen if he’ll fare better on the right side.
  3. Losing Karlos Dansby was a major blow to the Cardinals’ inside linebackers but it could get worse. Having Daryl Washington practice with the first team may be for naught if he’s suspended for a significant amount of time by the league for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The Cardinals are already in tryout mode with second-year linebacker Kevin Minter but if Washington is lost for more than a game, what was a strong point of the Cards’ defense will be its liability. Veteran Larry Foote may need the reps this offseason to get ready for a larger role next year but this is also a chance for an unknown inside backer to get noticed.
  4. It’s one thing for Cromartie to say his hip is better but it’s another for him to go out and show it. He’ll have the eyes of the media – although it’s not quite like New York – on him this offseason. If Cromartie’s hip isn’t an issue, he’ll be half of one of the league’s top cornerback tandems. If his right hip flexor is still hampering him during OTAs, he’ll be wise to just sit and let a young cornerback earn some time. But next up on the depth chart is the man Cromartie replaced, Jerraud Powers, who is likely itching to win back his spot.
  5. The top three wide receivers are a shoe-in. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Ted Ginn will have jobs in 2014. It’s the other eight receivers on the roster who’ll be fighting for their jobs starting Tuesday. Arians clearly likes small, speedy receives -- he drafted two -- but now he has an abundance of them on the roster and will start weeding through them this week. One or two will make the cut but the rest will left fighting for the final few spots on the roster as a gunner or a special-teams machine.
  6. What a difference a year makes. Last May, the Cardinals were as confused as ever when it came to learning Arians’ offense. This year they know the wrinkles and intricacies of his complex offense. The days of Fitzgerald and Floyd lining up in the wrong places are over. The next step can be taken, which could mean a quicker start for the Cardinals than a year ago. And the result of that could then a game or two in January.
  7. Throughout the smokescreens before and during the draft, there was one truth that rose above it all: Arizona wasn’t drafting a quarterback unless he could win a spot on the roster. After the Cardinals picked Logan Thomas, Arians made it clear the first two quarterback spots are taken. That means Ryan Lindley’s third-string job is up for grabs. He’s been lending a helping hand to Thomas but when practice gets going Tuesday, he’ll need to turn it up to show Arians that he made a mistake. That may be harder than anticipated because Logan was drafted to not get cut.
  8. One of the few players with the most to lose and the most to gain during OTAs is tight end Rob Housler. He fell short of expectations last season and never grew into the player Arians had envisioned him being. It doesn’t help Housler, cut from the receiving tight end mold, that he isn’t fond of blocking. The Cardinals went out during the offseason and added two tight ends who are tailor made to fit Arians’ two-tight end scheme. Add in Jake Ballard, who joined the team around midseason last year, and Arizona has a three-tight end rotation that could see Housler as the odd man out.
  9. Tuesday will be the first day that left guard Jonathan Cooper can take the field for since he broke his leg against San Diego in the Cardinals’ third preseason game. How much Cooper can do starting this week will be an indication of how far along in his rehab he is. If he’s practicing in full, training camp will be a sure thing. If not, then training camp may be the first time Cooper will work out at full capacity.
  10. Another offensive lineman the Cardinals are anxious to see on the field is guard Earl Watford. The second-year player feels he has a better grasp of the playbook and the offense in his second offseason. He’ll be given a chance to win the starting job over last year’s starting guard Paul Fanaika. If he does, the job may be Watford’s for the foreseeable future.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The NFL isn't a league where everyone gets a medal or a ribbon and a juicebox just for participating.

There are winners and losers, very definitive ones at that, and they're not just decided during the season. There are winners in the combine, in the draft and, of course, in free agency. But "winning" free agency is not always an objective.

Two of my colleagues, John Clayton and Field Yates, recently took on the unenviable task of evaluating the 32 NFL teams and deciding who's had the best free agency thus far and who hasn't.

Yates went first, deciding Wednesday, the second day of free agency, that the Cardinals were the early winners. On Friday, Clayton took his stab, not including Arizona in his five winners or five losers. Everyone evaluates free agency differently, there's no right or wrong away.

With all the moves that have taken place since 1 p.m. MST Tuesday, the race to be a winner has been neck-and-neck, but Arizona has staked a claim at having one of the best hauls this season.

As the sun sets on Week 1 of free agency, Arizona has signed left tackle Jared Veldheer, wide receiver Ted Ginn, running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen, while re-signing tight end Jake Ballard, kicker Jay Feely, defensive end Frostee Rucker and linebacker Matt Shaughnessy.

As a whole, the Cardinals' moves have all been strategic, targeting specific areas of need and improving significantly with each one. The offense made major strides with the addition of Veldheer to anchor the left side of the line. Coupled with the addition of Jonathan Cooper, who missed his rookie season with a broken leg, the Cardinals should be better than having the worst line in the league -- Pro Football Focus graded them as such after last season. Ginn's signing strengthened the wide receiving corps and gave Arizona a legitimate threat at kick returner. Larsen has a reputation as a strong, hard-working swing offensive lineman while Dwyer can add more thump to the Cardinals' backfield.

After the kind of turnaround season Arizona had in 2013, the Cardinals were able to be picky in free agency. They didn't have to overhaul a roster, as they did when head coach Bruce Arians was hired and general manager Steve Keim was promoted. Going 10-6 and sitting on the verge of the playoffs showed the Cardinals' brain trust where it needed to improve. And they focused on those areas.

There's still work to be done, such as building depth on both lines and finding a safety while stocking up on cornerbacks.

But there's also still plenty of time left in free agency.

Through the first week, Arizona put itself in a better situation to compete for an NFC West title. And by doing so, the Cardinals had one of the best free agencies across football.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians must love reunions.

Dwyer
For the second straight year, he'll reunite with a former Pittsburgh Steelers running back. The Cardinals signed Jonathan Dwyer to a one-year deal late Wednesday. He played under Arians in 2011 and 2010 but didn't have a significant role.

Dwyer showed he's capable of carrying an offense's load. He led the Steelers in rushing in 2012 with 623 yards and just two touchdowns on 156 carries when he shared starting duties after Rashard Mendenhall was injured. But Dwyer has spent the majority of his career as a backup, which he'll be in Arizona behind Andre Ellington.

Arians knows what Dwyer's capable of and clearly believes he'd be a good fit to give Ellington and Stepfan Taylor breaks. This isn't a starting opportunity for Dwyer, rather a chance for him to show his veteran savvy and play for a coach who knows him well enough to maximize his value.

There's a good chance this reunion works out better than the one between Arians and Mendenhall because Arians won't rely on Dwyer to carry the load. That torch has been passed to Ellington.
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.

Free-agency primer: Steelers

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

 
Key free agents: WR Emmanuel Sanders, DE Ziggy Hood, WR Jerricho Cotchery, DE Al Woods, DE Brett Keisel, S Ryan Clark, RB Jonathan Dwyer, C Fernando Velasco, OT Guy Whimper, C/G Cody Wallace, TE David Johnson, LB Stevenson Sylvester.

Where they stand: General manager Kevin Colbert has said the Steelers may be more active in free agency than in recent years, but don’t expect their philosophy to fundamentally change. The Steelers will focus on their own players and are likely to sit out the first wave of free agency and target midlevel free agents after the marquee names have signed with other teams. Colbert hinted that the Steelers could try to land a potential starter via free agency, and they could use immediate help as well as depth at just about any position on defense. Nothing would help the Steelers more than if they could sign a free agent who will make an impact like Ryan Clark (2006) or James Farrior (2002) did, though they would have to splurge to get a free agent the caliber of Farrior.

What to expect: Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the team's top free agent, is going to command more money than the Steelers are willing to pay. He will almost certainly sign elsewhere, though look for veteran Jerricho Cotchery to re-sign with the team after catching 10 touchdown passes last season. Defensive end Ziggy Hood is likely to sign elsewhere, making it imperative that the Steelers bring back Al Woods. They could also re-sign Brett Keisel for one more season if the two sides can find common ground on compensation. The Steelers have a good chance of signing most of their free agents with the exceptions of Sanders and Hood, and that is how they will add depth to their offensive line. Free agents they could target include former Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant, Dolphins defensive tackle Paul Soliai and 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown. The Steelers met with former Lions safety Louis Delmas last month, but his knee issues may be too much of a red flag for them, and they have since re-signed veteran Will Allen.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have 21 players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 11th, the start of the NFL’s new year. Here is a quick look at 11 of those unrestricted free agents – and the priority the Steelers should place on re-signing them.

Worilds
OLB Jason Worilds: The former second-round pick led Steelers with eight sacks and came into his own after a calf injury sustained by LaMarr Woodley provided an opening at left outside linebacker. Priority: Keeping Worilds should be at or near the top of Steelers’ to-do list.

WR Emmanuel Sanders: Showed flashes in his first year as a starter but also was plagued by inconsistency. Priority: Let market determine Sanders’ value and then see if he is worth bringing back.

Keisel
Keisel
DE Brett Keisel: Unlikely to return but I think the Steelers should seriously consider bringing back Keisel for one more season if the price is right. Priority: The Steelers can be patient here as Keisel, 35, won’t draw a lot of interest, at least initially, on the free-agent market.

DE Ziggy Hood: Hasn’t lived up to expectations as a first-round draft pick but I wouldn’t call him a bust either. He is one of the tougher ones to call since Hood has been serviceable and is one of three defensive ends who are impending free agents. Priority: Much like Sanders, the Steelers should let the market determine Hood’s value and then see if they are willing to pay it.

S Ryan Clark: He has had a tremendous run in Pittsburgh – and in the NFL in general considering he is still playing 12 seasons after making the Giants as an undrafted free agent. Priority: The Steelers need to get younger in the secondary and that almost certainly spells the end of Clark’s playing days in Pittsburgh.

Cotchery
WR Jerricho Cotchery: Is coming off a career-best 10-touchdown season. Loves Pittsburgh, loves playing for Mike Tomlin and catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger. Is a consummate professional and great locker-room guy. Priority: The Steelers need to make this happen as they should be able to find common ground with Cotchery in terms of bringing the 10th-year veteran back in 2014.

DE: Al Woods: Woods saw the first significant playing time of his career and started a pair of games at nose tackle for the injured Steve McLendon. He can play both end and nose tackle and still has upside. Priority: The Steelers, assuming the price is right, should bring back Woods. I don’t see both Keisel and Hood returning and there is a chance each has played his last game in Pittsburgh. Uncertainty at defensive end beyond Cameron Heyward makes re-signing Woods a key.

RB Jonathan Dwyer: Love him as a No. 2 running back who can be a spot starter if Le’Veon Bell goes down with an injury. The question is will Dwyer seek a larger role elsewhere and will there be much interest in him as a potential starter? Priority: Dwyer is another player whom the Steelers will let test the market and then see if they want to make a run at bringing him back.

Velasco
C Fernando Velasco: One of the most unsung players of the season, Velasco stabilized the center position following the loss of Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey. Ruptured Achilles ended his season after 11 games. Priority: Velasco would be ideal as the first center/guard in reserve, and recent history shows how important depth is along the offensive line. The Steelers should have a good chance of re-signing Velasco because of his injury.

G/OT: Guy Whimper: Proved to be a valuable fill-in and started a game at each guard spot. Whimper would bolster the offensive line depth if he returns. Priority: The Steelers should be able to bring back Whimper, assuming he wants to return, and his position flexibility is a bonus.

S Will Allen: The veteran rejuvenated his career after re-signing with the Steelers following his release by the Cowboys. Allen played significant snaps as a third safety in the quarter package and was a core special-teams player. Priority: Allen wants to return and I think there is a good chance that the Steelers bring him back for another season because of their comfort with him and his ability to play special teams.

Rest of the free agents: RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB Felix Jones, WR Plaxico Burress, TE David Johnson, TE Michael Palmer, C Cody Wallace, LB Stevenson Sylvester, LB Jamaal Westerman, P Mat McBriar and LS Greg Warren.

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 11

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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An examination of four hot issues from the Steelers' 37-27 win over the Lions:

Running on empty: The Steelers won for the first time this season when they weren't able to establish the running game and had to depend on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger slinging passes all over the field. The Steelers ran the ball on just 37.5 percent of their snaps. Le'Veon Bell struggled despite a promising start. The rookie gashed the Lions for 13 yards on the Steelers' first offensive play of the game. He gained only 23 yards on 17 carries the rest of the way, and Jonathan Dwyer hardly played until late in the game. It was puzzling that the player coach Mike Tomlin called a "spark plug" last week didn't get some carries earlier in the game. Dwyer is averaging 4.6 yards per carry this season while Bell is averaging a pedestrian 3.1 yards per tote.

Cotchery
Taylor
Old reliable: Jerricho Cotchery's 20-yard touchdown catch sealed the Steelers' win and also established a new career high for scoring catches in a season (seven) by the 10-year veteran. Roethlisberger often talks about how much he trusts Cotchery, and free safety Ryan Clark added his own unique spin on what makes the player known as "J Co" to his teammates so valuable. "Sometimes they have Ferraris out there and sometimes you've got some Bentleys," Clark said of wide receivers in general. "Jerricho is a conversion van. He's always going to be there. He's going to tote the family well. He's going to be safe. He makes every catch he's supposed to and makes all the plays he should make. He's an awesome player. He's underrated in this league but he's eating people up in the slot."

Bouncing back: Ike Taylor looked completely overmatched in the second quarter when he gave up a pair of touchdown passes to Calvin Johnson and dropped an easy interception. The veteran cornerback looked like he needed extra help with Johnson. It turned out he just needed to get to the locker room to regroup along with the rest of the Steelers defense. Both were considerably better in the second half as Johnson did not catch any of the three passes that Matthew Stafford threw to him in the half. "We weren't drawing up anything different," strong safety Troy Polamalu said when asked about the adjustments the defense made at halftime. "We just needed to do our job better. It wasn't just Ike who gave up those plays. There were some broken coverages." Said Taylor: "We stuck with [the game plan]. It's not how you start. It's how you finish."

Injury update: The Steelers came out of the game in pretty good shape on the injury front. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders left the game in the second quarter with a foot injury and didn't return. But Sanders indicated that the injury wasn't serious and said he did not need to get an MRI on his foot. He said the Steelers held him out of the game in part because they didn't want him making the foot worse on the wet field. "I could have went back in," Sanders said. Linebacker Stevenson Sylvester sustained a hamstring injury in the game.

Dwyer pushing for more playing time

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
5:00
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PITTSBURGH -- Jonathan Dwyer didn’t look at his release by the Pittsburgh Steelers as a wake-up call.

“All it did was just basically piss me off,” Dwyer said, “and want to prove everybody else wrong and make them regret everything they did.”

[+] EnlargeJonathan Dwyer
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJonathan Dwyer is averaging 4.8 yards per carry this season.
It is safe to say that Dwyer has channeled his anger over a mistake made by the Steelers and turned it into a positive.

Dwyer has emerged as a tone-setter since re-signing with the Steelers in early September, and the fourth-year running back has supplied jolts of energy -- whether he is running over a defender or throwing a key block.

A lot of unlikely things have happened since the Steelers cut ties with Dwyer when they set their 53-man roster.

An errant cut block by a teammate ended center Maurkice Pouncey’s season only a handful of snaps into it. Recreational guidelines in the Steelers’ locker room drew national attention. The Steelers’ gave up 93 yards rushing on the first play of a game and 95 yards rushing the entire game two weeks later against a solid running attack.

That Dwyer would play his way into the good graces of coach Mike Tomlin a little more than two months after the Steelers released him, has to rank as one of the biggest surprises of the season.

And a welcome one for the 3-6 Steelers.

“I like the energy he brings, not only on offense, but he’s been a spark plug for us in term of the things we’ve asked him to do on special teams,” Tomlin said of Dwyer. “I like where he is.”

The seventh-year coach hasn’t always been able to say that, and that is probably an understatement.

Dwyer’s struggles with his weight during the offseason tested the Steelers’ patience, and they gave up on their 2012 leading rusher after trading for Felix Jones less than a week before final cuts.

That seems like a long time ago, and not just for Dwyer.

“He’s come back with a clear heart and up for anything,” Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “He said that from Day 1 once he came back, and it showed. Every opportunity whether it’s one snap, three snaps, five snaps, special teams, you see him and you notice him out there. “I think that when guys do that and show that on a consistent basis, they earn the respect of their teammates and they earn the respect of their coaches.”

They also earn a bigger role, something Tomlin said Dwyer has done given his success when spelling starting running back Le’Veon Bell.

Dwyer is second on the Steelers with 139 rushing yards, and the 5-11, 229-pounder is averaging 4.8 yards per carry. What can’t be quantified is the value of the emotional lift Dwyer provides the Steelers when he batters an opposing defense.

The former sixth-round pick hasn’t just won back Tomlin with runs that have proven to be as punishing as they are timely, but also fans who criticized Dwyer last season for coming out of games after tapping his helmet.

Dwyer said those gestures weren’t an indication that he was tired, but an acknowledgement that the next back in the Steelers’ rotation was up.

“It aggravated me,” Dwyer said of the perception created by his helmet taps. “Everybody thought I was out of shape. That doesn’t mean I’m gassed or tired or out of shape. I don’t really care about it anymore. I’m just worried about what my teammates and what coach Tomlin and other people around the league expect out of me.”

LeBeau hopes to limit Megatron's damage

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
6:20
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PITTSBURGH -- One of the greatest catches Jonathan Dwyer ever saw Calvin Johnson make is not among the 541 receptions that the latter has been credited with since breaking into the NFL in 2007.

One of the greatest catches Dwyer has ever seen period is not even among the 178 that Johnson made during a hallowed career at Georgia Tech.

It happened during a Yellow Jackets practice when Dwyer and Johnson, who hosted Dwyer on his official recruiting visit, were teammates at Georgia Tech.

Johnson, Dwyer said, turned his body in the air while attempting to catch a jump ball that had been underthrown. Johnson managed to catch the pass one-handed and his body was position was such, Dwyer said, that it was similar to someone jumping headfirst into a pool.

"Everybody got quiet and looked and just started staring at each other," the Steelers running back recalled. "I've seen him do some things that I've never seen anybody do ever in my life. I'm not surprised what he's done at all since he's been in the NFL. He's a freak of nature."

Dick LeBeau has undoubtedly had the same thought while watching film of Johnson and the Lions' offense this week at Steelers' headquarters.

There is no word on if the longtime defensive coordinator is washing down his meals this week with Pepto-Bismol as he tries to craft a game plan that limits the damage Johnson inflicts at Heinz Field. But LeBeau, who intercepted 62 passes as a Hall of Fame cornerback for the Lions, knows what the Steelers' secondary is up against in the 1 p.m. game on Sunday.

"I'd have asked for Cover 2 and rolled up on him," LeBeau said when asked if he could have covered Johnson in his prime. "Let the safety have him over the top."

No coverage -- even one where teams have tried to hold up Johnson as if he is a gunner on the punt coverage team -- has worked against because he is simply too big, too fast and too skilled for opposing defensive backs.

Only Lance Alworth had more yards after his 100th NFL game than Johnson (8,740). Johnson exploded for 329 receiving yards in the Lions' 31-30 win over the Cowboys earlier this season.

The one thing about Johnson that gives the Steelers hope: a big game by the seventh-year veteran has not necessarily translated into the Lions winning this season.

Detroit is just 2-2 when Johnson goes over 100 yards receiving.

"He's going to catch some balls but if you play well you can keep him from dominating and that's what we have to do," LeBeau said. "I don't think anyone's got any magic coverage or anything."

The Steelers will lean heavily on cornerback Ike Taylor, whose combination of size and speed has allowed him to contain his share of big-time wideouts throughout the years. But even Taylor knows he is at a serious disadvantage on jump balls given the 6-5, 235-pound Johnson's size as well as his ability to high point a pass when it is in the air.

One of the approaches Taylor laughingly said he will take to shadowing Johnson: "You go back to the sidelines somebody gets mad at you, you tell them, 'You go out and do it,' " the 11th-year veteran said.

It is a fair retort by a defensive back who gets scolded for giving up a big play to Johnson, who may one day challenge Jerry Rice for the title of greatest wide receiver of all time.

Johnson already is a Lions legend, as is LeBeau, and the two have met several times.

"Great guy, great part of NFL history," Johnson said of LeBeau. "Looking forward to going out there (Sunday) and hopefully we can wreck his schemes."

Johnson, unfortunately for LeBeau and the Steelers, knows a thing or two about doing that.

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