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Jonathan Dwyer's rise means tough Steelers decisions

The Pittsburgh Steelers have struggled to run the ball this season, but Jonathan Dwyer's breakout performance against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night offers hope.

Dwyer's 122 yards on the ground were the most by a Steelers back in more than a year, but the third-year pro knows who's boss in Pittsburgh. Rashard Mendenhall is close to returning from an Achilles injury, and Isaac Redman (ankle) is on his way back, too. Dwyer won't stand in their way.

"If they were to be back, I have no problem," Dwyer told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "He (Mendenhall) is the starter and he's earned that here. All I tried to do Sunday was solidify myself as a player."

Coach Mike Tomlin said Dwyer is "evolving as a player and as a person," and beat writer Mark Kaboly believes the young back eventually might take over the starting role if he continues to shine over the final 10 games of the season.

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Mendenhall is in the final year of his rookie contract. The Steelers are paying him $2 million this year and might shy away from a big second contract for a running back who's coming off knee surgery.

Dwyer will be a restricted free agent in 2013, and the Steelers have decisions to make in their backfield. Pittsburgh is targeted to land as high as $15 million over the salary cap heading into next season, and somebody won't be back. It's a subplot to watch in the Steel City.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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