PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jonathan Dwyer walked into the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room a few hours before taking on the Eagles earlier this month, saw his name in black on the white message board and shrugged his shoulders.
The third-year running back expected there to be fallout over his costly fourth-quarter fumble a few days earlier in a loss to Oakland. While Dwyer hoped he'd get a chance to immediately atone for the first mistake of his career, the writing on the wall — literally — meant he was inactive.
Harsh? Maybe a little. Undeserved? Not really, at least not to Dwyer.
"I was inactive because of me," Dwyer said.
And the somewhat impersonal manner in which it was handed didn't bother him either.
"That's how we do business here," he said. "It's very honest and straightforward and it makes me want to work harder to eliminate my problems and eliminate mistakes from my game."
So Dwyer didn't spend two weeks beating himself up while watching from the sideline in sweats as Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman went to work. He's well-versed in the Steeler mantra of "next man up" and when injuries to both Mendenhall and Redman thrust Dwyer back onto the field last weekend against Cincinnati, he buckled his chinstrap, kept his head down and plowed ahead.
The result was a career-high 122 bruising yards in a 24-17 victory. On most teams, posting the highest rushing total in over a year would assure you of more than a handful of carries the next week.
Not in Pittsburgh, which has found a way of coaxing steady performances from whomever lines up behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
A half-dozen backs have topped 100 yards in a game at least once since Jerome Bettis retired after the 2005 season. From Willie Parker to Najeh Davenport to Mewelde Moore to the current trio of Mendenhall, Redman and Dwyer, Pittsburgh has a way of getting what it needs out of the running game from whatever name happens to be at the top of the depth chart, regardless of pedigree.
Though Mendenhall has been the entrenched starter since being taken in the first round of the 2008 Draft, when he's been hurt — which has been often — the dropoff has been minimal.
Last year it was Redman — who signed as a rookie free agent in 2009 — gashing the Denver Broncos for 121 yards in a Wild Card loss. Last week it was Dwyer — a sixth-round pick the 2010 NFL Draft — repeatedly churning into the Cincinnati secondary.
"There are a lot of talented guys in that room," tight end Heath Miller said. "Generally one guy is carrying the ball so you don't get to see what's behind the starter a lot of times but (the backups) are not duds by any means, they've got a lot of talent and they probably deserve more carries than they get a lot of times."
It's why Dwyer isn't getting caught up in worrying about his status, though it's likely he'll start on Sunday against the Redskins. Dwyer understands whenever Mendenhall returns from a strained right Achilles, he'll almost certainly head right back to the bench. The same threat looms if Redman's bothersome ankles recover.
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