Mendenhall recovered nicely from that benching last season. He was installed as the starter in the fourth game after a toe injury to Willie Parker and went on to become the seventh different back in franchise history to top 1,000 yards rushing. He had 1,108 yards with an average of 4.6 per carry.
With Parker gone, Mendenhall becomes the man. Mewelde Moore is the only other back on their roster who has had a carry in the NFL.
"I feel it was a pretty good start," Mendenhall said of his 2009 season, one year after his rookie campaign ended with 19 carries and a broken shoulder in the fourth game. "Right now I feel a lot better. Having that game experience, going out now I think everything's a lot more instinctive and comfortable."
The Steelers added Jonathan Dwyer to their backfield with a sixth-round draft pick, but have done little else to beef up their running game that team president Art Rooney said needs to improve in 2010. The Steelers ranked 19th in rushing in the NFL last season.
Among the other backs on their roster are Frank Summers, a rookie put on injured reserve last season with a bad back, and Isaac Redman, who spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad after he went undrafted.
Mendenhall would like to think the Steelers will run better in 2010 but he said it's too early to determine if that will happen and if there indeed will be a heavier emphasis on the run.
"It's tough to say right now because we're just trying to get back into things and I think our offense will form into shape as we get closer to camp. As a running back, you want the ball in your hands, you want to run the ball. That doesn't seem to be our focus. But whatever's called to do, however this offense is formed and shaped, we'll be willing to do that."
Like all backs, he would love to have a fullback slamming into the line to create some holes for him, something Bruce Arians does not prefer to use in his offense.
"As a running back you want a fullback," he said. "A fullback is another set of eyes in the backfield, they kind of read and feel through things that receivers and tight ends don't normally do, so as a running back you want that."
--The Steelers report to training camp in Latrobe, Pa., July 30 and will have their annual running test that day and start practice the next.
--Coach Mike Tomlin will replace Ben Roethlisberger at the quarterback's summer youth football camp June 21-23 in the Pittsburgh area.
"At the request of Ben Roethlisberger, I have agreed to host this year's Youth Football Camp," Tomlin said. "Ben has expressed his hopes that this outstanding community program can continue despite his absence as he addresses issues regarding his personal life. The camp already has a significant number of kids signed up who are expecting a great experience, and both Ben and I want to make sure they are not disappointed."
"I haven't been told anything," Dixon said. "All I can do is control myself on my reps and try to make the most of it."
--The Steelers got a scare early in practice Wednesday when first-round draft pick Maurkice Pouncey crumpled in pain after 330-pound guard Trai Essex stepped on his left foot. Trainers looked at his toe and after several minutes, the guard-center returned to finish practice.
"Oh, man, 330 pounds on a toe!" Pouncey said. "I felt it a little bit at first, but I got back in there and couldn't let the guys down."
--SS Troy Polamalu continues to miss OTAs while training individually in California, as he did the previous two years.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"I don't feel I'll be broken in half. Sometimes you have to use your instincts. If someone is coming full speed at you, you have to get down when need be." -- QB Dennis Dixon, on his running and get-down ability.
Copyright (C) 2010 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.