Sponsored Post: This post is presented by Sprint. Bringing you the first wireless 4G network from a national carrier. Only on the Now Network. - Michael Bean -
The Steelers offense enters the season with several questions marks, none bigger than the uncertainty at quarterback, but two players that will certainly play a huge part in determining whether or not this is a successful season will be Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace. This will be Mendenhall's third training camp, but first that he enters as the starter and he'll have to prove that last year's 1,100 yard seven touchdown season was no fluke, especially considering the pressure that will be on the running game for the first four games of the season. Wallace also enters his first camp as a projected starter and last year's surprising rookie has some awful big shoes to fill as Hines Ward's counterpart. The Steelers will certainly need both young players to have good seasons but which one is more important?
- The Case for Mendy: Mendenhall won the starting tailback job just four games into last season and he went on to tally three 100 yard games and averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry in six of the remaining 13 games. Despite that success though, the Steelers are undoubtably asking for more from the third year back in 2010. Mendenhall will likely be asked to carry the ball 300+ times and should approach 1,500 yards this season, especially if he is effective early in the season while Big Ben is out. A case could easily be made that Mendy's effectiveness during Ben's absence is more important than whoever is taking the snaps as well. Either way you look at it, the Steeler offense is counting on a banner year from Rashard Mendenhall and if he struggles, it'll effect everyone on his side of the ball.
- The Case for Wallace: First, I'll admit that normally a starting tailback is much more important to a team's success than a team's 2nd wide reciever, especially if we're talking about the Steelers, but hear me out. First, I'm assuming that Hines Ward won't be starting 16 games this season (a feat he accomplished last year for the first time since 2004) and if that assumption holds true then we're looking at Wallace as this team's #1 wideout for at least a game if not many more. Secondly (and honestly this is something I can't prove but I feel fairly confident is true), Ward has been able to maintain his effectiveness well into his 30's at least partly because the Steelers have been able to take pressure off the veteran wideout by having a game changing reciever on the other side of the field (a role formerly filled by Santonio Holmes). If Wallace is unable to fulfill the same role, Ward could start getting more defensvie attention and the entire passing game could bog down. The second part of the case for Wallace has more to do with the rest of the depth chart. If Mendenhall were to go down with injury or simply fall flat on his face this season, it's not entirely crazy to think that the team could patch together a reasonably productive backfield from Mewelde Moore, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman (aka "The People's Training Camp Champ"), but the same can not be said if Wallace were to either get injured or simply be unproductive this season. Certainly no team with playoff aspirations, much less championship aspirations, can enter the January and/or February months with Antwaan Randle El or Arnaz Battle as a starting wide out. Making the jump from surprising rookie to above average starter in one season's time is a difficult task but that's exactly what the Steelers are expecting from Mike Wallace in 2010.
Certainly cases can be made for plenty of other veterans (Big Ben, Ward himself, Heath Miller, and probably either one of the OT's), but as far as young players who are absolutely crucial to the success of the 2010 Steelers, who ya got: Mendy or Wallace?