By Matthew Marczi
Running back Jonathan Dwyer starting playing on the punt return team two weeks ago against the New England Patriots. You may not have noticed because the Patriots were only forced to punt twice in the entire game. Brian Moorman didn’t get so lucky. Even the winds conspired against him, punt after awful punt.
The fact that special teams coach Danny Smith put Dwyer on the punt return team, I believe, says a lot more about the player than the coach. Could you imagine Dwyer rushing the punter or throwing a block at any other time in his career?
I know Dwyer was asked yesterday what difference there was in how he is now and before he was released to start this season, and I know that his answer was “nothing”. The body of evidence suggests otherwise. Mike Tomlin surely is not the only person of the opinion that unemployment is a great motivator.
I believe that Dwyer realizes now more than ever what it takes to keep your job in the NFL, and I believe he’s willing to do whatever is asked of him, and then some, in order to assure that he doesn’t have to watch another game from the couch until he’s retired. And that’s exactly why you see him on the punt return team now.
Now, I’m not saying that he’s on his way to the Pro Bowl as a specialist. In fact, he still has some work ahead of him as he polishes his craft.
Here is a good example to show the work he still has yet to put in. He lined up squared up to the blocker to the left of the long snapper and tried to rush the gap at the snap, but the long snapper caught him and, with the help of the up back, buried him, knocking him to the ground.
That is not the reason that I’m writing this article, of course. Were this his full level of contribution to punt returns, there’s a chance I would have never even noticed that he was on the field. The reason that I am drawing attention to the fact that he is on the punt return team is to highlight some of the fruits of that labor.
Dwyer again lined up in the same spot, across from the blocker to the long snapper’s left. This time, he slanted outside the formation, and probably got held a bit as well. After the punt was off, he turned upfield, and after seeing Antonio Brown break free, he looked for somebody to block.
He saw Chris Hogan cutting into the lane and pushed him out of the way near the 40-yard line, which bought Brown another 20 yards or more. But he continued to follow the play in case he had a chance to block somebody else. As he celebrated with Brown after the long return, I suspect he was as excited for himself as he was his former draft classman.