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NKySteeler
05-20-2009, 08:41 PM
Just Like Two More Draft Picks
By TERESA VARLEY

It didnt seem like much of an advantage at the time, what with the Steelers getting virtually no production from their top two 2008 draft choices as they steamed to an NFL-best sixth Super Bowl championship. But now its 2009, and as the Steelers begin to put their roster together for the upcoming season, Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed almost feel like a couple of bonus draft picks.

RASHARD MENDENHALL

When Super Bowl XLIII ended and 2008 was put to rest in grand style for the Steelers, the 2009 season officially began for Rashard Mendenhall.

Mendenhall, the teams No. 1 pick a year ago, signed early, showed promise in training camp and was in the process of carving himself a role as an NFL running back when Ray Lewis broke his shoulder with a tackle during a Sept. 29 game that also was his first professional start.

Onto the injured reserve list he went, and Mendenhall became a spectator. What could have been a promising rookie season came to a screeching halt.

As soon as the Super Bowl ended, it was a relief, said Mendenhall.

It was great to win and get the ring and celebrate, but then I was back on the same level as my teammates, not on injured reserve. When the Super Bowl ended, my season started. Im trying to do everything I can to get ready. Im looking forward to this year.

Mendenhall has been in Pittsburgh through most of this offseason, at the teams indoor facility on a regular basis either running, catching passes or improving his footwork. When the voluntary workouts began in mid-March, he already had put in plenty of work.

The shoulder is feeling great, and the healing process had gone so smoothly from the start that Mendenhall was physically capable of playing football in early January. But the rules of injured reserve prevented that, and he was left to wait.

Once the range of motion came back there was no more injury, said Mendenhall. It was just a matter of building strength. Around the Super Bowl, I had pretty good strength and probably could have been playing.

There were times during the season when the team could have used him. Mendenhall had started that Baltimore game because Willie Parker sprained his knee and would miss four games in a row.

Mewelde Moore stepped in capably, but the Steelers were thin in the backfield. Having Mendenhall back, to go with Parker and Moore, gives the Steelers a nice triumvirate at running back.

Just the added depth can always help, especially at a position like running back where you never know whats going to happen, because it did last year with me and Willie getting hurt and then Carey Davis, too, said Mendenhall.

All Mendenhall could do last year was keep a close eye on Parker and Moore. He learned from watching how they approached everything from the grind of the daily schedule of meetings and practice, to their moves on the field in certain game situations.

I tried to pick up as much as I could from them, said Mendenhall. All of the experiences you dont get physically on the field, well, watching Willie and Mewelde work helped me. I watched film and got into the playbook, tried to pick up the game as much as I could.

It wasnt an easy road, though. Mendenhall had high hopes for his rookie season and never envisioned spending it on the sidelines.

Its tough and frustrating, said Mendenhall. Being a competitor you want to be with your teammates. You want to go out and compete. Being sidelined is a hard pill to swallow. Its over now. Im relieved, because Im back at the same level as all of my teammates, just looking forward to the next time I put a helmet and shoulder pads on.

As a second-year pro, Mendenhall has the advantage of being settled in Pittsburgh and knowing what its like living on your own.

I feel a lot more comfortable with all of the outside stuff, he said. As far as on the field, Ill probably feel a little like a rookie still.

This year is a brand new start. I am just ready to get going heading into next year. I just want to have success this season.

LIMAS SWEED

The days offseason workout had been over for about half an hour and Limas Sweed was making his way out of the Steelers locker room. But Sweed wasnt on his way to the parking lot to jump in his car and head home; he was on his way across the parking lot and back to the indoor practice facility to catch passes from Dennis Dixon. Its become a regular routine for the second-year receiver and the second-year quarterback.

I have been going through routes, getting a better feel for it, catching balls over and over again, said Sweed. You can never touch the ball enough. Its definitely positive momentum for me.

And positive momentum is something Sweed really could use going into this season. He was inactive for the first four games of 2008 and then was in uniform against Jacksonville for the first time on Oct. 5, but he did not play. After that, Sweed saw limited playing time in the next 11 games to finish his rookie regular season with only six receptions for 64 yards.

The No. 4 receiver when the playoffs began, Sweed followed up a disappointing regular season with a couple of spectacular drops in the playoffs. One came late in the AFC Divisional Round when he was running down the sideline all alone against the Chargers, and the other was an almost exact replay, only this one came at the end of the first half in the AFC Championship Game.

He needs to continue to improve, just like everyone does, on his route-running, understanding of offenses and defenses, said Ben Roethlisberger. He has come a long way in one short year already. The sky is the limit for him. I think if he continues to put the extra work and effort in, hell be just fine.

Sweed looks at his rookie year as a learning experience, a chance to gain a wealth of knowledge about the NFL game even if he didnt get as much playing time as he would have liked. He got advice from Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, who encouraged him to be himself, to do what he knows he is capable of doing and not to put too much pressure on himself.

I learned a lot, had a lot of ups and downs, said Sweed. It made me work harder this offseason. Two or three days after the Super Bowl my mind was already looking to the next season and thinking about the things Im going to do during the offseason to get ready for this season.

He knows there are questions about him, based on his contributions after being a secondround pick who was said to have first-round talent. Expectations are always high for top draft picks, and after Sweed didnt put up the numbers and also committed those two drops in the playoffs, there was criticism.

People may judge, I dont pay attention to critics, said Sweed. I definitely know that nobody has really seen what Im capable of doing. They havent seen a glimpse of what Im capable of doing. Thats why I started the offseason two weeks early to do what I can to show this team and everybody what Im capable of contributing. One thing Sweed had working against him last year was the talent ahead of him. With Ward and Holmes starting and Nate Washington a solid third receiver, there werent a lot of opportunities for him.

I knew this was an extremely talented team, said Sweed. Winning the Super Bowl proves that. I wanted to find my place first, whether it was on offense or special teams. I wanted to get in, get into the groove of things, and fill in wherever they needed me.

This year Sweed will get a chance to make an impact, and Coach Mike Tomlin is known to put a lot of pressure on his second-year pros. Washington is gone, having signed with the Tennessee Titans as an unrestricted free agent, and his spot as the No. 3 receiver has not been filled.

Before Washington left for the Titans, he told Sweed to listen to Ward and Holmes, because they had helped him develop.

Hes going to have to be very productive this season, said Holmes. Were going to have to see some improvement from him. He has to stay focused, get more involved. He has to notice things hes doing wrong and do them better.

The Steelers used one of their three third-round picks on receiver Mike Wallace from Mississippi State. Wallace could contribute immediately on kickoff returns, but his 4.33 speed could make him an intriguing option in the multiple-receiver formations. Sweed plans to do whatever is necessary to carve out a role for himself in those situations.

I see it as an opportunity to step in and do some great things for this team, said Sweed. I just have to be consistent catching the ball and blocking, basically doing what I am capable of doing.

So each day of the offseason program, when mostly everyone else is heading home, Sweed continues to focus on different aspects of his game because he wants to make sure hes ready when training camp opens.

Im one of those guys who likes to work on everything, said Sweed. One day it might be route-running, the next day releasing off the line, catching deep balls. Every day I catch balls. Every day in the offseason I do that. I want to keep working on my craft and try to get better at it. As long as I do what Im capable of doing, I will be fine.

Im taking my time putting the grind work in now. When the time comes I will definitely be ready.

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MENDENHALL & SWEED: HOW THEY FIT IN

Mendenhall: The only running back drafted Frank Summers with the second pick in the fifth round is more of a power back, a shortyardage option. Willie Parker is the starter, and the preferred role for Mewelde Moore is as the third-down back and a kickoff returner. Mendenhall will enter training camp secure in a spot as No. 2 to Parker.

Sweed: Mike Wallace was a No. 3 pick, and his speed had offensive coordinator Bruce Arians excited when he was talking about the selection. Also, the team added veteran Shaun McDonald, and Dallas Baker is back for another crack at securing a full-time roster spot. Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes are the starters, and the Steelers will employ as many as four receivers in situations. Rookie receivers rarely are capable of making an impact, and Sweed is a former No. 2 pick. Much will be expected, but hell be given opportunities throughout the preseason.

mshifko
05-21-2009, 09:30 AM
i mean when you think about like that, it's awesome...personally i never look for much production from rookies, this year is different....i look for big things outta 34 and 14...they have the talent and i can't wait to unleash these new weapons on the league...we won it all without any production out of these guys, lost a few players, but realistically we're the same team...our chances to repeat are scary good

Oviedo
05-21-2009, 09:53 AM
i mean when you think about like that, it's awesome...personally i never look for much production from rookies, this year is different....i look for big things outta 34 and 14...they have the talent and i can't wait to unleash these new weapons on the league...we won it all without any production out of these guys, lost a few players, but realistically we're the same team...our chances to repeat are scary good

:Agree

I can see Sweed getting 30+ catches and 5 TDs and Mendy having 500-600 yards rushing and 5+ TDs.

steeler_fan_in_t.o.
05-21-2009, 10:30 AM
It would be a more relevant point if we ever really got production out of our rooks. With a few exceptions, Steeler rookies redshirt their first year. Bustamalu, Timmons the wasted pick at 15, this is not the first time that our picks are only ready to produce in year two. We may have expected more out of them last year, but even if healthy who knows?

Oviedo
05-21-2009, 10:43 AM
It would be a more relevant point if we ever really got production out of our rooks. With a few exceptions, Steeler rookies redshirt their first year. Bustamalu, Timmons the wasted pick at 15, this is not the first time that our picks are only ready to produce in year two. We may have expected more out of them last year, but even if healthy who knows?

That is why we continue to be successful. Players are not put in "no win" situations and they are developed to the point that when the play they are "set up for success."

I have no problem with this philosophy because it is just the right way to do business. No one expects a high school graduate to be a Rhodes Scholar as a freshman in college.

Learn and improve and then play when you can make a difference. That doesn't mean you are a bad draft choice it just means you were selected by a good, talented organization.

steeler_fan_in_t.o.
05-21-2009, 03:12 PM
It would be a more relevant point if we ever really got production out of our rooks. With a few exceptions, Steeler rookies redshirt their first year. Bustamalu, Timmons the wasted pick at 15, this is not the first time that our picks are only ready to produce in year two. We may have expected more out of them last year, but even if healthy who knows?

That is why we continue to be successful. Players are not put in "no win" situations and they are developed to the point that when the play they are "set up for success."

I have no problem with this philosophy because it is just the right way to do business. No one expects a high school graduate to be a Rhodes Scholar as a freshman in college.

Learn and improve and then play when you can make a difference. That doesn't mean you are a bad draft choice it just means you were selected by a good, talented organization.

Exactly right. I am always amazed when Steeler fans are so quick to jump onto the FO for draft picks who don't step in year 1 because "he was a first rounder and first rounders should be ready to start day one!!!". It is righr up there with fans who can't believe it when we don't grab the Albert Haynesworths on day one of free agency. :lol: :lol:

stlrz d
05-21-2009, 07:17 PM
[quote="steeler_fan_in_t.o.":2su5nifs]It would be a more relevant point if we ever really got production out of our rooks. With a few exceptions, Steeler rookies redshirt their first year. Bustamalu, Timmons the wasted pick at 15, this is not the first time that our picks are only ready to produce in year two. We may have expected more out of them last year, but even if healthy who knows?

That is why we continue to be successful. Players are not put in "no win" situations and they are developed to the point that when the play they are "set up for success."

I have no problem with this philosophy because it is just the right way to do business. No one expects a high school graduate to be a Rhodes Scholar as a freshman in college.

Learn and improve and then play when you can make a difference. That doesn't mean you are a bad draft choice it just means you were selected by a good, talented organization.

That gives me a poll idea. :twisted:

Exactly right. I am always amazed when Steeler fans are so quick to jump onto the FO for draft picks who don't step in year 1 because "he was a first rounder and first rounders should be ready to start day one!!!". It is righr up there with fans who can't believe it when we don't grab the Albert Haynesworths on day one of free agency. :lol: :lol:[/quote:2su5nifs]