Steelers don't want this to slip through their fingers
By F. Dale Lolley, Staff writer dlolley@observer-reporter.com

Rashard Mendenhall broke through a hole in the right side of the line and hit daylight. As he did, however, Detroit Lions safety C.C. Brown reached out and slapped the ball out of Mendenhall's arm.

For some running backs, fumbling a ball in a preseason game would not be considered that big of a deal.

For Mendenhall, however, it has been something he's battled since he twice put the ball on the ground in his first preseason game as a rookie two years ago.

That's why Mendenhall feels he has something to prove when the Steelers play the New York Giants in their second preseason game tonight at New Meadowlands Stadium.

"To a certain extent," Mendenhall said, "every chance you get is like an interview, and I want to perform well."

Mendenhall fumbled just three times in 242 carries as he rushed for 1,108 yards last season. His fumble against Detroit and the three he had in the preseason during his rookie year raise concerns.

Mendenhall doesn't want to be labeled a fumbler. That is the worst reputation a running back can have in the NFL. When opposing defenders know a player has a tendency to fumble, they might make an even greater effort to strip the ball.

"Yeah, that's possible," Mendenhall admitted. "But if you do what you're supposed to do, they're not going to get it."

Mendenhall's fumble against the Lions wasn't the only one for the Steelers. Mendenhall was pulled from the game following his fumble and backups Mewelde Moore and Isaac Redman each fumbled. Redman's fumble was challenged by head coach Mike Tomlin and overturned.

Running backs coach Kirby Wilson spent the final week at training camp at Saint Vincent College working on drills to make sure fumbles don't become a problem.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said he did not feel the need to address the issue with the running backs.

"I assumed that they understood that is unacceptable," said Tomlin. "If they didn't, that is going to be unfortunate for them."

The unfortunate thing for the Steelers against the Giants is that New York will be without starting quarterback Eli Manning and backup Jim Sorgi. Manning suffered a deep gash in his forehead in the Giants' preseason victory over the Jets Monday night, and Sorgi injured his shoulder.

That leaves third-string Rhett Bomar and rookie Dominic Randolph, who was signed this week, to face the Steelers.

"I don't care who they play," said Tomlin. "Very rarely am I concerned about our opponents. I think that when you are trying to be very good, you need to focus on the things that you do and not the things that you can't control. Your opponents and who they play is irrelevant."

In a preseason game that Tomlin is hoping to get the measure of his team, the undermanned Giants might not provide much of a test, at least for the defense.

On offense, however, the Giants and their solid front seven will be a good test for Mendenhall and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is expected to see his first action of the preseason. He will share time with Byron Leftwich with the first unit.

"We are excited about having to go into a hostile environment and continue working on some things that goes with that," Tomlin said. "Silent counts and so forth, how the crowd can affect the game offensively. We hope that the crowd is going to be hostile and I am sure it is going to be a fun time."