By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin set a precedent Tuesday when he named Jonathan Dwyer as the starting running back and dropped former No. 1 pick and starter Rashard Mendenhall to third on the depth chart between Dwyer and Isaac Redman.
The moves were sparked by lackluster play in recent weeks and a multiple-fumble performance against the Cleveland Browns Sunday afternoon. Despite the strong endorsement from Tomlin, citing his consistency and productivity, Dwyer was unemotional.
“That’s their decision, what they wanted to do,” Dwyer said Wednesday before practice. “So, I’m just trying to do my job. I’m the same way now as I was (Tuesday) when I found out about it. It’s something they wanted to do, and I’m just adjusting to it. I guess (it’s gratifying), but in all reality success is great and all that good stuff. But I just want to help us win games.
“That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. It’s their decision, if they want me to start, but I’ll just do whatever I can do to help us win games. This is what we work for, but you can have all the yards in the world. And at the end of the day, if you don’t win a championship and you don’t have the wins to show that you were part of something special, it’s not worth it to me.”
Redman and Mendenhall also appeared to take the decision in stride, although the former starter wasn’t nearly as remorseful about his situation.
“This is how we have to approach the week, and I’ll just do whatever I’m asked to do,” Mendenhall said. “(But) I really don’t think too much about it. I’ve been around these situations before, so I’m going to approach this week just like I’ve done every other week. We just have to get back to the fundamentals.
“We watched it on film and saw where we were lax in places that we shouldn’t have been, and we approach this week in practice like we should approach a game with our ball security. (Tomlin) informed me, so we’re going to approach this week that way. (But) I really don’t react too much to anything, so I just continue to prepare to get ready to play like this is any other week.”
But is Mendenhall at least a little disappointed that he’s not the starter?
“I really don’t react,” Mendenhall said. “That’s what is in front of me, so that’s how I’m going to approach it. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I just take things day by day. And that’s the way I approach things.
“There’s always opportunities, and whatever happens from those I’m always going to try to take advantage of any opportunity that I get.”
Tomlin took responsibility for the fumbles, noting that apparently the players were not coached well enough during their ball-security drills. Redman appreciated that approach, but added that was hardly the case.
“I look up to Coach Tomlin, because he always tries to take blame for the decisions made around here … but I don’t believe it was Coach Tomlin’s fault at all,” Redman said. “Coach Kirby has coached us up on ball security. We work on it all the time. He wants to put the blame on himself, too.
“But it falls back on us, the running backs. It was on us to hold onto the ball, and we didn’t do it. It starts with us. It was unacceptable. It was embarrassing, and that’s not what we’re taught. We start every day with ball-protection drills, so it’s just unfortunate what happened in that last game.”
In previous weeks, with three healthy backs, the Steelers promoted a rotation where each player basically checks himself in and out of a game. That’s not the case this week, as Tomlin said Dwyer should get the bulk of the carries. Dwyer believed he could carry the load, even if it reached 25 or more carries.
“What comes with it is a lot of responsibility,” Dwyer said. “You have to produce and go out there and make plays for your team. They’re depending on you to be the established guy to get the run going. I’ve done it before, a lot of carries, so it’s nothing new to me. Whatever they need me to do, I’ll do it.
“Every day, Coach Wilson teaches us to be ready to be the guy if you need to be. So, I’m preparing the way I’ve always prepared. I’m working hard to be the starter. It just so happens that I have the title (as the starter) now, but that’s all it is to me. It’s just a title. And I’ll try to do whatever I can to keep it.”
This will be Dwyer’s third start this season. He also opened two preseason games as the top running back. Dwyer leads the Steelers with 429 rushing yards and a 4.4-yard average.