By that, I mean the Steelers will be welcoming back 2008 1st Round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall back to the fold after a rookie season that was cut off far too early due to a broken bone in his shoulder compliments of Ray Lewis. Since then, the Steelers managed to sport just the 23rd best rushing attack in the league. Willie Parker has battled nagging injurys to varying degrees of success. And of course, the offensive line remained much maligned for their inability to consistently open up running lanes for whomever was toting the ball in the Steelers backfield.
All that has contributed to many fans feeling the Steelers need to look to the 2009 NFL Draft for additional insurance and depth for the running game. With Willie Parker set to be a free agent after the 2009 season, many feel it would be prudent to take a RB in Rounds 4-6 to have as insurance in 2009 and to split carries with Mendenhall in 2010 and beyond. That's all fine and well, but there does seem to be a distinct lack of confidence in Rashard Mendenhall's ability to be a big time feature back capable of staying on the field for an entire season.
I can't possibly sit here and write that I'm 100% confident that Mendenhall has what it takes to be a stud RB in this league, but as we've said around here many times before, more often than not, the Steelers front brass earns their keep when it comes to identifying talent in the Draft, particularly with their early round picks. It's also important to note though that the injury sustained by Rashard was not to a knee, there were no ligaments involved, he didn't break a bone in his leg, etc.
He will have to shake the demons of being TKO'ed by Ray Lewis and continue to go out there and run with reckless abandon, but if he's a football player in even the slightest - which I think he is - than that shouldn't be a problem. Just remember, when we got Mendenhall about this time last year, we were all extremely excited about his big play ability, his willingness and capability fighting for tough yards in between the tackles, the versatility he provides with his competency catching the football out of the backfield, and the depth that it would give us in the event that Fast Willie Parker got dinged up over the course of a long 16 game season.
We'll see, and I'm eager to hear about the kind of summer he has working out, getting ready to go out in 2009 and prove the Steelers made a wise choice drafting him with the 23rd overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft.