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SteelersMongol
08-30-2008, 08:23 AM
Gripping drama unfolds in AFC North

Former Illinois star Rashard Mendenhall as a bright future with the Steelers—as long as he learns to hang onto the football

As he sat down to a lunch of lemon pepper roasted chicken, potato wedges and several small M & M cookies, Rashard Mendenhall had much to be thankful for.

He is playing for a stately organization with a tradition of winning and weathering storms.

He is playing on a team that won the AFC North last season, with one of the game's top quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger.

He is not being counted on to be a savior in the backfield, only to come out of the bullpen in relief of Willie Parker.

But his indoctrination to the NFL has not been without potholes. Mendenhall, a product of Niles West and Illinois, fumbled three times in his last two exhibition games, prompting coach Mike Tomlin to tell reporters he would be hesitant to use Mendenhall in games that count.

Teammates have tried to "help" him by making him carry a football around the team facility, and then trying to swat the football away. Mendenhall has been forced to cough up $100 to every teammate who has been able to make him fumble.

He has had to endure the usual rookie jabs. One day he walked into his meeting to find a Ron Zook Fan Club towel on his desk. Mendenhall, most certainly, is not a member.

Pittsburgh is an adjustment for Mendenhall. He recently bought a townhouse, but he's living without his mother, who is staying in Champaign, and his brother, who has transferred to Illinois State from Illinois.

Playing on a team that considers itself a family should ease the transition.

"It's a good place," he said. "I like how everyone carries themselves around here."

But the Steelers do not like how he carries the football. Specifically, he carries it too low and running backs coach Kirby Wilson is working on getting Mendenhall to carry it higher.

"He's making progress, but it's not going to change in a month," Wilson said.

Wilson was with the Patriots when they drafted Kevin Faulk in 1999 and Faulk carried the ball the way Mendenhall does. Wilson said it took a good two months into the regular season before Faulk had the problem squared away.

Mendenhall's fumbling issue, as well as the presence of Pro Bowler Parker, likely will limit his opportunities early in the season. Wilson said Mendenhall probably will get between four and nine touches per game, depending on the situation. His primary responsibility will be to spell Parker when he needs a rest.

The good news is the Steelers believe Mendenhall is capable of playing in every situation.

"He's a complete back, outstanding between the tackles," Wilson said. "He's going to be a real special runner in this league."

If Mendenhall gets homesick, it may help to know some of the people working closest with him also know the words to "Oskee Wow Wow." Wilson was a running back at Illinois in 1980-81 and Steelers starting fullback Carey Davis came out of Illinois in 2003.

There may have been a part of Mendenhall that was pulling for his hometown Bears to take him with the 14th pick in the April draft.

Before the draft, few would have suspected he would end up in Pittsburgh. The Steelers really didn't need a running back. And Mendenhall was rated the second-best back in the draft by some analysts, so most—including the Steelers—figured he would be long gone by the time the Steelers' 23rd pick came around.

Now the Steelers hope Mendenhall and Parker can give them a one-two punch that will enable them to fend off the rest of the AFC North.

The Ravens won only five games last year, but they beat the Steelers in the season finale. The Bengals are an explosive offensive team that might be getting its defensive house in order. And the Browns finished in second place in the North only because the Steelers won a tiebreaker. Cleveland then had one of the most impressive off-seasons in the NFL, acquiring Corey Williams, Shaun Rogers and Donté Stallworth, among others.

Mendenhall has drawn comparisons to another player who made his living in these parts.

"He reminds me of a faster Jerome [Bettis]," Steelers veteran cornerback Ike Taylor said.

Funny, Mendenhall's favorite player as a kid was none other than Bettis. He said he liked Bettis and former Raiders receiver Tim Brown after becoming familiar with them through video games.

"I can see the similarities," Mendenhall said. "He's a big guy, real agile, real good feet. He's a little more laid back, but he likes to have fun."

Since he became a Steeler, Mendenhall has spoken with Bettis a few times, and Bettis offered advice on life in the NFL.

The best advice he could give him at this point: Hold onto the football, kid.

http://chicagosports.chicagotribune.com/sports/football/bears/cs-080830-afc-north-rashard-mendenhall-pompei,1,2493749.column

And I wouldn't mind Bettis fan with our team. :wink02: Afterall, Bettis was one of the reasons why I became Steelers fan. I really look forward to what this kid can offer to the organization. :tt02:

Texasteel
08-30-2008, 09:29 AM
I agree, this kid is going to be just fine, and doing things this year that will show him to be a very special player.

SteelersJW
08-30-2008, 02:26 PM
Mabye Bettis can give him some tips on how to hold onto the ball. If he gets over that, he's gonna be great.

LVSteelersfan
08-30-2008, 03:18 PM
Mabye Bettis can give him some tips on how to hold onto the ball. If he gets over that, he's gonna be great.

Don't forget that Bettis almost fumbled away the game against Indy in the playoffs a couple years ago. I know he was not a fumbler for the most part, but it happens to everyone. I doubt there is a RB in league history that has not had a fumble at one time or another. It is part of the game.

19ward86
08-30-2008, 04:17 PM
Hopefully Rashard can have a hall of fame career also.

LambertIsGod58
08-31-2008, 06:16 AM
I still can't believe he fell all the way to us. He was considered the best RB in the draft by some.

LambertIsGod58
08-31-2008, 06:16 AM
and a Bettis fan to boot......!!!

steelwall
08-31-2008, 06:24 AM
I think he'll learn to hold onto the ball, after all that has to be the one thing on his mind now. I'm sure this kid wants to play, and he's a smart kid. He knows if he doesnt get the fumbling undercontrol he'll be riding the pine, and Im sure he doesnt want that.

Galax Steeler
08-31-2008, 09:12 AM
Mendenhall will be ok I noticed in the game against carolina toward the end he was running with both hands on the ball and with his head down more.

Texasteel
08-31-2008, 09:20 AM
and a Bettis fan to boot......!!!

Isn't everybody.:thumbsup:

Dodt
09-01-2008, 12:42 AM
hopefully mendenhall will be able to inspire future steeler running backs.

stillers4me
09-01-2008, 10:35 AM
I have great faith he'll learn whatever it takes to become another great Steelers RB!