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Old 05-04-2008, 07:53 AM   #1
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Post Steelers' Mendenhall brings a ton of potential

Steelers' Mendenhall brings a ton of potential
By Scott Brown
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, May 4, 2008

He is fast, powerful and far from a finished product. He is described as humble but confident enough to compare his running style to that of a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.

He is well-rounded -- he writes poetry and music in his spare time -- and is considered such a solid citizen that occasional moodiness is apparently the closest thing Rashard Mendenhall has to a character flaw.

"Yeah," Walter Mendenhall, Rashard's older brother, said late week, "sometimes he likes his space."

The Steelers took Mendenhall in the first round of last weekend's NFL Draft because they envision the former Illinois star creating plenty of space for himself on the football field.

The 5-9 1/2, 224-pounder has the build to pound the ball between the tackles, but also possesses the kind of speed and quickness that makes him a threat to break a long run anytime he touches the ball. Add that to Mendenhall's pass-catching skills and his capability of taking on blitzing linebackers as a blocker, and it's easy to see why the Steelers think they may have just gotten the equivalent of the Louisiana Purchase with their first pick (No. 23) in the draft.

As an added bonus to Mendenhall slipping to the latter part of the first round, he enters the NFL with a little something to prove.

"For me to go to as the fourth running back (in the draft)," Mendenhall said, "I feel like I'm the best running back."

There are some among the Steelers' braintrust that were also of that opinion. That is why there was all but the popping of champagne corks in the Steelers' draft room after the team made Mendenhall the first running back the organization has taken in the first round since 1989.

He went later than expected because of the run made on offensive tackles -- seven were taken among the first 21 picks of the draft -- and when the Cowboys took running back Felix Jones at No. 22, the Steelers didn't hesitate to grab Mendenhall.


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What a rush
After spending his first two seasons at Illinois as a reserve, Rashard Mendenhall had a breakout year in 2007, setting several school records and winning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Year G GS Att. Yds Avg. TDs
2005 10 0 48 218 4.5 0
2006 12 1 78 640 8.2 5
2007 13 13 262 1,681 6.4 17

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"That might be the craziest one I've ever seen," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said on how the first round unfolded. "That thing with offensive linemen was like a panic attack. We knew Dallas wanted Felix Jones, but we didn't think they would pass up Mendenhall."
Asked if there was any discussion on how the Steelers should use their first pick when Mendenhall did slide to them, Arians said, "Oh, gosh no."

The Steelers already have a Pro Bowler at running back in Willie Parker but they couldn't pass on the player who rushed for 1,681 yards and 17 touchdowns last season in leading Illinois to the Rose Bowl. What makes him all the more exciting as a prospect for the Steelers: Mendenhall's upside is considerable -- he doesn't turn 21 until next month -- and he doesn't have a lot of wear and tear since he was the Illini's feature back for just one season.

"All of his football is in front of him," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "I think he's just going to improve and get better and better."

Mendenhall has come a long way from the little boy who needed Walter to help him in the park one day after some older kids took his football.

But, as Walter recalled with a laugh, even after he got the football back for Rashard, Rashard couldn't resist pushing one of the older boys -- before running to his brother for cover.

That is probably the last time that Rashard, who is a year younger than Walter, remotely backed down when it came to football.

As a sixth-grader he played on a team filled with seventh- and eighth-graders, and he established himself as a premier recruit while starring with Walter at a suburban Chicago high school.

After biding his time as a backup his first two seasons at Illinois, Mendenhall helped turn around a program that had fallen on hard times, and his piece de resistance came in the Rose Bowl last January.

Mendenhall rushed for 155 yards and a touchdown on just 17 carries against one of the fastest defenses in the country. Not long after that game, he declared for the NFL Draft.


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Mendenhall by the numbers
2 -- Mendenhall's rank among Illinois' receiving leaders in receptions in 2007

7 -- Mendenhall's rank on Illinois' all-time rushing list

8 -- 100-yard rushing games Mendenhall had in 2007, establishing a new school record for 100-yard games in a season.

34 -- Receptions he had his senior season

86 -- Longest run Mendenhall had at Illinois

129.3 -- Rushing yards per game in 2007, which was eighth-best in the nation.

1,199 -- All-purpose yards Mendenhall had in 2007, breaking the previous Illinois record for all-purpose yards in a season.


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Right after the Steelers picked him, Mendenhall was asked to compare his game with that of another player. His choice of San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson gave a glimpse into how sure he is of his own abilities.
"You look at his decision-making and his footwork and his agility, he is a real balanced runner," Mendenhall said. "He can catch the ball and he can run you over too, so I can make the comparison to L.T."

When Arians watched Mendenhall on film he drew comparisons to another pretty good running back: four-time Pro Bowler Edgerrin James.

"(Mendenhall) is at this stage, 10 pounds heavier and a little faster than Edge (was) coming out," said Arians, who coached James while the two were in Indianapolis. "Very comparable guys. Slashers who can make you miss, powerful and the pass-blocking part is the biggest thing. Edge could come in and play right away because he could pass protect (against) NFL linebackers. We thought Rashard could handle that part of it."

Mendenhall was one of five running backs taken in the first round of the draft, and Arkansas' Darren McFadden, widely considered the best back in the draft, went fourth overall to the Raiders.

"If I was one of the NFL owners there wouldn't be a snowball's chance in hell that I would have drafted McFadden over Mendenhall," said Joe Galambos, who coached Mendenhall in youth leagues and through high school and is still close to him. "It wouldn't happen for the whole package. I'm not saying anything negative about (McFadden), I'm just saying that from A to Z, if I'm going to invest that kind of money in a player, my money would be on Mendenhall without even thinking of it."

While character questions were raised about McFadden prior to the draft, the Steelers had no such concerns about Mendenhall.

Nor do they have any worries about how he'll adjust to being a complementary player after spending last season as the centerpiece of Illinois' offense.

This is, after all, the same guy who declined a chance to go back into a lopsided game last season so he could set the school's single-season rushing record.

The reason is he wanted Walter to get a chance to play.

And no one was cheering louder than Rashard when Walter, who played sparingly at Illinois and has since transferred to Illinois State, broke free for a long run.

"He's a great person," Zook said of Mendenhall. "He's one of those guys where he's never going to be an issue off the field."

The only issue the Steelers may take with him is over the incessant lobbying Mendenhall is almost sure to do before next year's draft on his brother's behalf.

The two are tighter than a tripwire, and Mendenhall is convinced his brother only needs the same opportunity that he got to show he can shine.

So, among the many qualities that drew the Steelers to Mendenhall, include loyalty on that list.

"You can expect him to give his heart and soul to the Pittsburgh Steelers," Galambos said, "and to do exactly what they expect him to do and then some because he won't be satisfied with anything less."


Scott Brown can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.


http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pitt.../s_565645.html

Welcome, and I mean a very BIG welcome to the 'Burgh, Rashard! May I be the first to present you with your very own Terrible Towel.......... Now go take care of that hammy.

Thunder and Lightening..........I love it!!!!!!
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Old 05-04-2008, 09:28 AM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers' Mendenhall brings a ton of potential

Man I can't wait to see this dude hit the field!!!
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Old 05-04-2008, 10:37 AM   #3
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Default Re: Steelers' Mendenhall brings a ton of potential

Talk about character, and man this guy has a lot of it! We know he will be a great player, maybe in a year or two he will make another fantastic leader in the clubhouse as well.
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Old 05-04-2008, 10:58 AM   #4
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Default Re: Steelers' Mendenhall brings a ton of potential

I keep hearing that his brother is transfererring here (to my home town) for graduate school....still trying to find out if he has a year of elgibiity left and plans on playing for Illinois State.

If so...our church has a athletic supper in the fall and the coach has al lhis players attend as a show of appreciation. I always help with the banquet ...Perhaps (tactifully) I might get the opportunity to talk with Walter Mendenhall and give Rashard regards from "Steelers Fever"!
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Old 05-04-2008, 11:00 AM   #5
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Default Re: Steelers' Mendenhall brings a ton of potential

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Originally Posted by lamberts-lost-tooth View Post
I keep hearing that his brother is transfererring here (to my home town) for graduate school....still trying to find out if he has a year of elgibiity left and plans on playing for Illinois State.

If so...our church has a athletic supper in the fall and the coach has al lhis players attend as a show of appreciation. I always help with the banquet ...Perhaps (tactifully) I might get the opportunity to talk with Walter Mendenhall and give Rashard regards from "Steelers Fever"!
Tell his brother we would love to have them both sign on and say hello!
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Old 05-04-2008, 11:17 AM   #6
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Default Re: Steelers' Mendenhall brings a ton of potential

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Originally Posted by stillers4me View Post
Tell his brother we would love to have them both sign on and say hello!
Man would I love that...The trick would be to not come across as just another person demanding time from either of them...(but you know I'll try)
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Old 05-04-2008, 12:39 PM   #7
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Default Re: Steelers' Mendenhall brings a ton of potential

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Man would I love that...The trick would be to not come across as just another person demanding time from either of them...(but you know I'll try)
Good luck man, hey maybe give him a Steelers Fever t-shirt to break the ice.
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Old 05-04-2008, 12:55 PM   #8
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Good luck man, hey maybe give him a Steelers Fever t-shirt to break the ice.
I can guarentee that I can talk to Walter....so maybe I can turn him on to a few free homecooked meals ...compliments of Mrs. LLT.
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