Dwyer just latest breakout back for Steelers

Dwyer just latest breakout back for Steelers

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.

If Mendenhall and Redman get healthy at some point this season, there's even a chance Dwyer could return to the inactive list.

Dwyer is OK if that happens, confident that he's heading in the right direction. It's been a long slog over the last three years for the former Georgia Tech star who surprised some by coming out after his junior season.

He arrived at his first training camp out-of-shape and even now, his 5-foot-11, 229-pound frame is hardly imposing compared to the chiseled Mendenhall or the brawny Redman.

Unlike most of his teammates, Dwyer rarely takes his shirt off in the locker room and there's a small but noticeable bump over his midsection when he's in uniform.

Not that it matters when the ball is in his hands. Dwyer runs with a quiet controlled fury. Get the ball. Pick a hole and sprint.

``My game is just going straightforward and making things happen and being physical,'' Dwyer said. ``That's who I've been ever since I was a kid. That's not going to change.''

Good, because the Steelers don't want him to. In a way he's a smaller version of Bettis only without the ``Bus'' nickname or the Super Bowl ring, though former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward has an idea on what to call Dwyer if he can make his performance against the Bengals a habit.

``He's the minivan,'' Ward said. ``He doesn't look perfect all the time. It's just a beige light van, no rims on the car, no tint on the windows. But he's one of the guys if you continue to give the rock too, gets you from Point A to Point B.''

It's all the Steelers ask from any of their running backs. For all their collective gifts, Dwyer, Mendenhall and Redman merely serve as supporting actors in an offense that revolves around Roethlisberger.

Still, even Roethlisberger relishes the chance to finish off an opponent by taking a snap, turning around and handing it to a back until the defense breaks.

The quarterback got a pretty good view of Dwyer's handiwork against the Bengals. When Pittsburgh took over nursing a seven-point lead with 3:57 left, he hit Mike Wallace for a first down then gave it to Dwyer on four straight plays for runs of 14, 0, 3 and 32 yards.

On the final snap, Roethlisberger took the ball and kneeled down in victory formation then slapped Dwyer on the helmet.

``He ran guys over and got the tough yards,'' Roethlisberger said. ``He found the speed to get down the field and into the secondary. He puts safeties in tough situations.''

The same can't be said for Pittsburgh's coaching staff.

Tomlin is pleased with Dwyer's progress but makes no promises about the future. That's fine by Dwyer, who tries to heed running backs coach Kirby Wilson's advice to focus on the brotherhood of the position and not who's getting the ball.

``Kirby has always taught that's it's not about competing against each other, it's about helping each other,'' Dwyer said. ``We all want to be the best.''


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Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

Washington Wizards

Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

This weekend was already going to be special for Washington Wizards fans. Now they will get souvenirs to remember it.

As part of their celebration of Phil Chenier's legendary career and the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship, the Wizards are handing out emoji signs on Friday night and commemorative t-shirts on Sunday. All fans in attendance will receive a giveaway.


The emoji sign has Chenier's face on it and will be handed out for the March 23 game against the Nuggets. Chenier will have his jersey retired at halftime during the game. 

The emoji sign is presented by NBC Sports Washington. You're welcome, Authentic Fans.


The shirts will be given out on Sunday when the Wizards host the New York Knicks. 

Here's the front...

And the back...

Let's take a closer look at that back...

As a reporter who has received many giveaways over the years at pro sports stadiums, these are uniquely awesome. Should be a great weekend for Wizards fans. See you at the arena.


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Orioles round out starting pitching rotation, finalize 4-year contract with Alex Cobb

USA Today Sports

Orioles round out starting pitching rotation, finalize 4-year contract with Alex Cobb

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Alex Cobb's comfort and familiarity with the AL East was the deciding factor in his decision to sign with the Baltimore Orioles.

"They used the AL East and the success I've had in it to their advantage," the 30-year-old right-hander said Wednesday after finalizing a $57 million, four-year contract. "They kept challenging me with it and I love the challenge of pitching in this division and they know that over the times we talked. They did a really good job of making me feel like this is where I need to be."

Cobb gets $14 million in each of the first three seasons and $15 million in 2021, and he would earn a $500,000 bonus in each year he pitches 180 innings. Baltimore will defer $6.5 million from this year's salary and $4.5 million in each of the next three seasons.

He gets $2 million of the deferred money on Nov. 30, 2022, and $1.8 million annually on Nov. 30 from 2023-32. If he doesn't pitch at least 130 innings in 2020, an additional $5.25 million of the final's year salary would get deferred, payable $1.75 million annually on Nov. 30 from 2033-35.


Cobb has a full no-trade this year, then can list 10 teams from 2019-21 that he cannot be dealt to without his consent.

He had spent his entire six-season big league career with Tampa Bay and was the last big-name starting pitcher available in a slow-moving free agent market. He joined Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman, who were signed last month, in a revamped rotation that includes holdovers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.

Cobb was 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA in 29 starts last season. He pitched 179 1/3 innings in his first full year back after missing nearly two seasons because of Tommy John surgery.

He had turned down the Rays' $17.4 million qualifying offer in November, and Baltimore pursued him from the start of free agency.

"They didn't stop bothering me the whole offseason," Cobb said. "They were very persistent, and I think that you notice that confidence they have in you just by the way they speak to you and the questions you ask and not questioning anything that's gone on. Everyone's got flaws that they come with and potential things you could really harp on that might not be your strong suit, but they never went down that avenue. They always told me how much they like certain aspects of what I do on and off the field, and just kept repeating how well I fit in here."


Cobb is 48-35 with a 3.50 in six big league seasons. Baltimore will lose its third-highest draft pick, currently No. 51, and the Rays get an extra selection after the first round as compensation.

Jose Mesa Jr. was designated for assignment Wednesday to clear a roster spot.

Baltimore opens on March 29 at home against Minnesota, but Cobb won't be ready to pitch then. He has agreed to be optioned to a minor league affiliate to help build up innings.

"I'm going to be pushing it as quick as I can," Cobb said. "That's going to be up to them. They've invested in me for a four-year period and as much as we know how much every game matters even early in April, we're going to have to look out for the overall future of this whole thing and whole contract and whatever they determine to be the way to protect me and my feedback from the bullpens I'm going to be throwing here in the next few days will probably determine the timeline."