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Thread: Big burden falls on Mendenhall

      
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    Default Big burden falls on Mendenhall

    Big burden falls on Mendenhall

    Tuesday, September 07, 2010
    By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



    Peter Diana / Post-Gazette file
    Rashard Mendenhall -- Three fumbles last season


    So Dennis Dixon will get the start at quarterback Sunday afternoon against the Atlanta Falcons. It's not the right call by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, not the right call at all. Charlie Batch is the better option because of his experience. He knows the offense inside out and sees the field better than Dixon. He isn't likely to make the killer mistakes that gets his team beat. He would give the Steelers their best chance of winning.

    Tomlin said something else troubling Monday when he announced Dixon was his man. He said Dixon would have use of the "whole playbook," unlike last season in Baltimore when he made his only NFL start against the Ravens and ran a pared-down version of the offense in a 20-17 overtime loss. I'm not sure Dixon is ready for that. I'd feel a whole lot better about him if I knew a lot of the play calls involved him turning around and handing the ball to No. 34.

    You know, Rashard Mendenhall.

    I'm thinking he has to have a monster game Sunday for the Steelers to win.

    He needs to have a monster season, actually.

    Mendenhall proved he's capable in the final 13 games last season after being benched on offense in a Sept. 27 game at Cincinnati and publicly lashed by Tomlin for not being up to speed with the game plan. A lot of players would have sulked. Mendenhall reacted exactly the way Tomlin had hoped. That was good coaching by him. Mendenhall studied hard and played harder the rest of the way. He finished the season with 1,108 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, making veteran running back Willie Parker expendable.

    Now, Mendenhall clearly is the guy, which is a good thing. He's a big-time back, if you ask me. I hear people say he has fumbling problems, but that's nonsense. He touched the ball 242 times last season as a runner and 25 more as a pass receiver and fumbled it three times. He can play on my team any day.

    "I am not a fumbler," Mendenhall said. "I think when I do fumble, it gets magnified by the way I carry the ball. But fumbling has never been an issue with me. All of my coaches through high school and college and here know that."

    It's fair to argue Mendenhall has reached a point with the Steelers that he's right there with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, defensive end Aaron Smith and safety Troy Polamalu as players the team absolutely can't afford to lose to injury. Behind him are third-down specialist Mewelde Moore and two players who have yet to carry the ball in an NFL game, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer.

    For the Steelers' sake, as well as Mendenhall's, knock on wood that Mendenhall stays healthy.

    Not that the man is worried about getting hurt.

    Turns out he's a nut about eating right and doing acupuncture.

    "Last year was my first year doing it," Mendenhall said of the acupuncture treatments. "[Teammate] James Farrior got me into it. I probably do it every other week and do chiropractic work the other week."

    Hey, if it gets Mendenhall 300-plus carries this season ...

    "It's nothing new for me," he said of carrying a full load, including work as the Steelers' third-down back. "It's been that way my whole life, all through high school and college. It's just on a bigger stage here."

    Just in case, Tomlin made it a point to save Mendenhall during the exhibition season, giving him just five, eight, five and five carries in the four games. It's hard for any back to put up big numbers when being used like that and Mendenhall didn't. He had just one double-digit run, an 11-yarder against the Denver Broncos.

    No worries.

    "The preseason isn't about yards," Mendenhall said. "It's about reads, decision-making, picking up blitzes, blocking, explosion through the hole. The coaches are looking at those things to see if you're ready."

    And the verdict on Mendenhall?

    "I'm ready. I'm all good."

    That's a comforting thought for Sunday, especially with Dixon getting the start.

    If Mendenhall doesn't get 25-30 touches, I'll be surprised.

    And the Steelers probably won't win.

    Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10250...#ixzz0yss9vdAW

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    Default Re: Big burden falls on Mendenhall

    Good idea, Cook. Let's get Mendenhall 300 carries... and then never hear from him again. It's worked out so well for guys like Larry Johnson and Willie Parker.
    "Nice catch, Hayes. Don't ever ****in' do it again." -Lou Brown

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    Default Re: Big burden falls on Mendenhall

    September 8, 2010

    Mendenhall: Run game crucial

    By ALAN ROBINSON
    Associated Press





    PITTSBURGH — For months, the Pittsburgh Steelers have emphasized upgrading their running game. Rashard Mendenhall is determined to prove all this buildup is a lot more than idle talk.

    With the Steelers starting the inexperienced Dennis Dixon at quarterback Sunday against Atlanta, Mendenhall knows that getting the running game going is a necessity to balancing an offense that simply can’t be as pass-heavy as it is with Ben Roethlisberger under center.

    There were a few flirtations a season ago with the Steelers’ running game of the past, as Mendenhall ran for 165 yards against San Diego and 155 against Denver.

    Still, it was their passing game and one of the NFL’s best defenses that were largely responsible for the Steelers’ 24 victories the past two seasons.

    That’s a break from the past, and a trend the Steelers almost certainly can’t extend into this season – not with Roethlisberger suspended for four games and Dixon likely to be his replacement for most or all of that stretch.

    “When you’re running the ball, you give your defense a break and you move the chains and control the game,” Mendenhall said Wednesday. “It’s important.”

    Only the Past couple of seasons, it seemingly hasn’t been all that vital to the Steelers.

    Since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, the Steelers have outrushed every other NFL team by about 5,000 yards. Franco Harris (eight 1,000-yard seasons) and Jerome Bettis (six 1,000-yard seasons) were greatly responsible for that.

    And as Bettis’ career wound down, Willie Parker ran for 4,012 yards from 2005-07, an average of 1,337 yards per season.

    The past two seasons, the Steelers’ rushing leaders combined for 1,899 yards: Parker ran for a team-high 791 yards during the Super Bowl-winning season in 2008, and Mendenhall ran for 1,108 yards last season.

    With a lesser emphasis on the running game, Roethlisberger passed for a career-high 4,328 yards in 2009.

    Being so one-dimensional isn’t the Steelers’ way, and team president Art Rooney II stressed shortly after their 9-7 season ended in January that the running game must be more efficient.

    To help accomplish that, the Steelers drafted center Maurkice Pouncey in the first round. They spent more offseason and training camp time working on short-yardage and goal-line running situations, major deficiencies last season. They also drew up a twin-back set in which Mendenhall and another running back, usually second-year player Isaac Redman, are in the backfield together, but not in the classic tailback-fullback formation.

    “It gives the defense a different look, something to be aware of, and keeps them off-balance,” Mendenhall said. “We can do more things out of that with Isaac since he’s run-capable. And we can do anything we do with our normal package.”

    Mendenhall also prepared during the offseason to get a lot more carries than the 242 he had last season; Parker had nearly 100 more carries than that in 2006. Mendenhall, the former Illinois star, should get more carries by staying on the field on third down, something he almost never did last season.

    “I’m ready – that’s what we’ve prepared for throughout the course of training camp and preseason and that’s what I’m looking at,” he said. “I’m just ready to do what I’m called to do on Sunday.”

    Coach Mike Tomlin suggests Mendenhall’s role would have expanded even if Roethlisberger played the whole season.

    “He’s an emerging player,” Tomlin said. “He’s becoming a veteran player. We’re going to call on him. I think that’s just the natural maturation process with any player, regardless of circumstances or the quarterback situation. Those are the things we’d be asking of Rashard because it’s all just part of where he is.”

    Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians also believes the Steelers can run the ball better without drastically reshaping the offense or asking Roethlisberger to throw a lot fewer times once he returns.

    “We want to improve the running game, but we **** sure don’t want to step back in the passing game,” he said.

    Meanwhile, quarterback Byron Leftwich (sprained left knee ligament) is riding a stationary bicycle and doing other exercises, but is not sure when he can play. He lost his chance to start the opener by getting hurt in the final preseason game.

    “I’m not going to go out there unless I’m healthy enough to play,” he said. “Hopefully I can speed this process up.”

    http://tribune-democrat.com/prosport...n-game-crucial

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