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lamberts-lost-tooth
09-24-2008, 04:12 AM
Fourth and goal: No experience necessary
By Mike Prisuta
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Adrian Peterson spent the 2007 season reminding one and all about the type of impact rookie running backs are capable of making in the NFL.

And his 1,341-yard effort in 14 games (nine starts) -- one that included an NFL-record 296-yard explosion against San Diego -- wasn't forgotten on draft day in 2008.

Beginning with Darren McFadden of Arkansas going to Oakland fourth overall, NFL clubs invested five No. 1 picks on running backs and wound up taking 11 in the first 89 selections last April.

Overall, 27 running backs were selected. And while none of them has as of yet threatened to duplicate Peterson's heroics against San Diego, several have managed to make an impact with their new teams.

The Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall -- 10 carries, 28 yards -- isn't yet one of them, but he'll have his chance to shine as Willie Parker's replacement when the Baltimore Ravens visit Heinz Field on Monday night.

Mendenhall has some catching up to do.

Among the rookie RBs who have hit the NFL ground running:

Matt Forte, Chicago: Although he wasn't drafted until the second round (44th overall out of Tulane), Forte has already set the franchise record for yards in a debut game (123 on 23 carries on Sept. 7 at Indianapolis). Not bad for a franchise that includes Walter Payton, Gale Sayers, Bronko Nagurski and Red Grange among its alums.

Chris Johnson, Tennessee: Taken 24th overall out of East Carolina, Johnson parlayed his 4.24 combine speed in the 40-yard dash into a 109-yard day on Sept. 14 at Cincinnati. He's the speed in the power-speed tag-team Tennessee has formed with Johnson and LenDale White.

Felix Jones, Dallas: Another history-maker. When he went 60 yards into the end zone on Sunday night in Green Bay, Jones (drafted one spot ahead of Mendenhall at No. 22 overall) became the first Cowboys rookie to score a touchdown in his first three games (Bob Hayes had gone 2 for 2 in 1965). He also has a 98-yard kickoff return for a TD.

McFadden: In addition to averaging almost 6 yards per carry in his first three games with the Raiders, McFadden perhaps became the first rookie RB in NFL history to influence another team's offensive game plan when Miami adapted a version of the "Wildcat" package McFadden had made famous, along with some help from Jones, last season at Arkansas.

Steve Slaton, Houston: The coming-out party for the former WVU burner occurred last Sunday against run-stingy Tennessee (18 carries, 116 yards, first career TD). Slaton was the last of the third-rounders taken (89th overall), but he's among the first of the rookie RBs to be heard from on Sundays.

Tim Hightower, Arizona: His 23 carries for 60 yards overall have been relatively quiet through three games. But after a five-carry, 23-yard day on Sunday at Washington, the fifth-round pick from Richmond (149th overall) may be about to assume a complementary role to Edgerrin James in the Arizona backfield.

THE HOCHULI FALLOUT

The NFL has apparently reacted to Ed Hochuli's quick whistle and fumble/incomplete pass gaffe on Sept. 14 in Denver with instructions to its referees to be absolutely, positively sure before they make calls.

How else can the slow-motion legislation of the intentional grounding/safety call against Ben Roethlisberger last Sunday in Philadelphia be explained?

Roethlisberger scrambled and then launched a pass while being dragged to the turf. The pass wound up being deflected.

No signal was given.

The ball hit the ground in the end zone, several Eagles and Steelers piled on top of it -- still no call was forthcoming.

Roethlisberger got up and engaged referee Walt Anderson in conversation and Anderson let his penalty flag fly, but still no call was made.

Anderson next had a chat with line judge Byron Boston, and the two were soon joined by field judge Gary Cavaletto and another member of the crew.

Finally, Anderson emerged from conference and announced "the quarterback threw the ball and it did not get back to the line of scrimmage and no eligible player was in the area," and signaled for a safety.

The call was the correct one because Roethlisberger's knee was down in the end zone before he released the ball.

But Anderson never mentioned that detail, or that the pass was deflected, and the whole crew apparently failed to notice eligible receivers Heath Miller and Mewelde Moore in position to make the catch had the ball not been deflected.

They got it right by accident, but at least they took their time.


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