Steelers Fever – The Willie Parker effect

The Willie Parker effect: Jonathan Dwyer’s opportunity

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Thursday, November 1st, 2012
By Travis Boariu
Steelers Fever Columnist

In 2010, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected RB Jonathan Dwyer, property of Georgia Tech with the 188th overall selection within the 6th round of the NFL Draft. Many who watched Dwyer’s days as a Yellow Jacket steam-rolling defense’s immediately chalked up the selection as a draft day “steal” for the Steelers.

Throughout Pittsburgh’s history as a football franchise, they owned the mentality of being a pound it out, physical running team in the confides of the trench’s between the tackles. Having a bruiser like Dwyer dropping down the charts coincided perfectly in how the Steelers do business in April; drafting value in the later rounds hoping the player selected fits their criteria years later down the road once the grooming process was complete.


All didn’t start well with this young kid coming out of college. Not only was he coming out of a system at Georgia Tech that didn’t translate too well in the pro’s, but his personal combine leading up to the draft stifled potential buyers away from his appeal as weight issue’s rumored to be a concern. He went from a sure 3rd round draft pick, to a late day guess. His issue’s with Attention Deficit Disorder held back his potential of being a top back selected amongst his class.

Then the Steelers came calling. It took six long and grueling rounds for Dwyer to be handed an opportunity to land on an NFL squad. That was in 2010. It is now ‘years later down the road.’


Smiley face

Back in 2004, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed an undrafted free-agent RB named Willie Parker who dazzled with speed and relentlessness. Fighting for his football career literally by the second, Parker would soon find himself inserted into the starting lineup on opening day in 2005 VS the Tennessee Titans after bulldozing RB’s Jerome Bettis and Deuce Staley suffered injuries that held them out of the starting lineup.

Parker never looked back.

The tiny but speedy Parker, who just months before was fighting for a roster spot, got the nod as the Steelers starting tailback and rushed for 161 yards on 22 attempts. That following week at the Houston Texans, Parker again rushed for over 100 yards, gaining 111 yards on 25 carries, solidifying his position as starting tailback for a Steelers team that saw many Hall of Famer’s come before him.


With Rashard Mendenhall nursing a torn MCL injury at the end of the 2011 football season, the 2012 Steelers were forced to go with career backup Isaac Redman week 1 against the Denver Broncos at Mile High. Redman was so-so in the contest but earned the starting position in which coach Mike Tomlin claimed “running backs by committee.”

This would be the norm for the Steelers as week to week the team suffered heavily without a feature back, getting off to their worst start in the ground game in nearly 60+ years.

The “running backs by committee” was a death trap and the final nail in the coffin after the likes of Jonathan Dwyer irresponsibly coughed up the football in Oakland at a pivotal time of the game did that philosophy in. The Steelers ended up losing the contest and Jonathan Dwyer was not only benched, but deactivated from team participants’ on Sundays.

Until injury happened.

Just like Willie Parker’s situation 7 years earlier, the Steelers were forced to give the rock to stalky running back out to prove himself after the fumbling debacle. With Rashard Mendenhall again out with an Achilles’s injury, his backup Isaac Redman suffered an injury as well (just like Jerome Bettis and Deuce Staley) setting the stage of redemption for the ‘mini-van’ as he would later become.

Smiley face

His response?

Running ‘Bus-like.’ Dwyer bounced, bruised and brawled his way to 122 yards on 17 carries in Week 7 at the Cincinnati Bengals with the season on the line and brawled, bruised and bounced his way to 107 yards on 17 carries in Week 8 VS the Washington Redskins.

The Bengals and Redskins game marked the first time a Steelers halfback rushed for back-to-back 100 yards games since….you guessed it…. Willie Parker in 2008.


Steelers fans shouldn’t be surprised to see Jonathan Dwyer run away with this opportunity and never let go of the starting position, forcing the likes of Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman into supporting roles for good.

Who knows, if this trend continues, maybe this tank of a man will go on to break the Super Bowl’s ‘longest run from scrimmage’ record to give the Steelers their “Stairway To Seven”, just as Willie Parkers’ record-setting run gave the Steelers their long-awaited “One For The Thumb” in Super Bowl XL.

That was the Willie Parker effect. This is Jonathan Dwyer’s opportunity.


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