The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

September 11, 2013

RB carousel begins in Week 2 for Steelers

PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin stressed to Jonathan Dwyer when the coach cut the Pittsburgh Steelers running back 10 days ago that the decision to release the team’s leading rusher in 2012 was not a personal one.

“We kept the guys that we kept because of the things they did, not because of the things Jonathan didn’t do,” Tomlin said.

No hard feelings, apparently.

Dwyer practically sprinted to the team’s practice facility after the Steelers re-signed him on Monday. A day before, the Steelers lost LaRod Stephens-Howling for the season due to a knee injury. While allowing it may take Dwyer a day or two to get back up to speed, Tomlin didn’t rule out Dwyer playing a significant role when Pittsburgh (0-1) travels to Cincinnati (0-1) next Monday night.

“I don’t anticipate that being a major problem,” Tomlin said, “but we’ll play it by ear and see how he looks on the practice field and in the classroom.”

Dwyer’s presence couldn’t hurt after the Steelers managed just 32 yards on 15 carries in an uninspired 16-9 loss to Tennessee last week. Isaac Redman lost two fumbles and ran for just nine yards on eight carries while Felix Jones – who surprisingly beat out Dwyer for the final roster spot – spent most of the day on the sidelines.

Tomlin insisted he remains confident in Redman’s ability as a starter while rookie Le’Veon Bell recovers from a sprained right foot. Center Maurkice Pouncey will undergo surgery on Thursday to repair torn knee ligaments in his right knee and won’t play until 2014 after teammate David DeCastro fell on him less than 5 minutes into the game.

“Losing Pouncey was a blow to the group, not only in terms of what he’s capable of, but emotionally, the manner in which it happened,” Tomlin said. “Hopefully, we’ll put those things behind us and execute at a high level, a winning level.”

The Steelers signed veteran Fernando Velasco on Monday but utility lineman Kelvin Beachum will get the first shot at replacing perhaps the most irreplaceable player on the roster. In addition to being a captain, Pouncey made the blocking calls at the line of scrimmage and served as the big brother to a group filled with second and third-year guys still learning their craft.

Now the group will have to go it alone while also bringing Velasco – who started 16 games for Tennessee last season – up to speed. Titans coach Mike Munchak said Velasco will “do great.” At the moment, merely doing “OK” would be an improvement for a group rattled by one of the more miserable openers in recent memory.

Losing early, however, hasn’t been a major issue for the Steelers through the years. The 2002 team dropped its first two games and went on to make the playoffs. Five years ago Pittsburgh muddled through a 15-6 loss to at Philadelphia but ended up winning the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl.

Tomlin stressed there were encouraging signs even amid all the disappointment. The defense allowed just 229 yards, including just 2.7 yards per carry. When given time – not always a given – quarterback Ben Roethlisberger managed to complete 21 of 33 passes.

“We had our chances at the end of the game,” Tomlin said. “We had an opportunity to get the ball at the end of the game. We didn’t do it. All of those things are things to build from I think.”

If anything, the Steelers can take solace from the fact the three other teams in the AFC North stumbled on the first weekend of the season. As bad as Pittsburgh looked, it also didn’t lose any ground.

Pittsburgh split two games with the Bengals last season, winning in Cincinnati before losing at the gun in Week 15, a defeat that knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs.

The postseason remains a distant speck on the horizon for the Steelers. Then again, the same can be said for the rest of the league. It was a bad week, but it was just a week.

“The good thing about the NFL is redemption Sunday, or Monday in this instance, is only a short number of days away,” Tomlin said.

 

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