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Dwyer pushing for more playing time

11/15/2013

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.”

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.”