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06-13-2010, 01:18 AM
Kids running the Steelers shop

By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times
http://www.timesonline.com/sports/sport ... -shop.html (http://www.timesonline.com/sports/sports_details/article/1501/2010/june/13/kids-running-the-steelers-shop.html)
Sunday June 13, 2010 12:00 AM

PITTSBURGH — In a year in which the team president demands an upgrade in the running attack, the Steelers will try to do so with the kiddie corps.

Never during the Super Bowl era have the Steelers entered a season with a set of backs as young as they have right now.

“It’s the youngest group of running backs that I’ve had in my 13 seasons in the National Football League,” running backs coach Kirby Wilson said. “It has its plusses and minuses. But it’s a very good group. They have a lot of talent, and it’s fun trying to get it out of them.”

Rashard Mendenhall, a first-round pick in the 2008 draft, enters the season as the unchallenged starter. He moved in with the first team early last year when since-departed Willie Parker missed two games with a turf injury.

On Saturday, Mendenhall turns 23.

During the organized team activity practices the past four weeks, rookie Jonathan Dwyer was impressive. The Steelers didn’t select the former Georgia Tech star until the sixth round, but many draft experts projected Dwyer to go as early as the second or third rounds.

Dwyer turns 21 on July 26, four days before the Steelers start training camp.

Frank Summers, a running back and fullback, played briefly in two games last year before he was placed on injured reserve with a back injury. A burly 5-foot-10, 240 pounder, the Steelers are anxious to see if Summers can live up to his nickname, Tank.

Summers turns 25 on Sept. 6, six days before the season opener.

“My back is fine,” Summers said. “I’m ready to go.”

The elder statesman at the running back position is Mewelde Moore, who’s been used primarily the past two seasons as a third-down back. Moore turns 28 on July 24.

“It’s a young group, but it’s a real solid group of guys,” Mendenhall said.

For the most part, Mendenhall was solid last year. He finished with 1,108 rushing yards. In his first start, on Oct. 4 in a 38-28 win over San Diego, he rushed for 165 yards and cemented his spot in the starting lineup.

Mendenhall also proved that he’s a capable threat as a pass receiving with 25 catches. That’s four than Moore, who caught 40 passes in 2008.

Now Mendenhall wants to prove that, after carrying 242 times last year, he’s capable of carrying the ball over 300 times like many of the league’s most productive backs.

“As a running back, you prepare for that and expect that,” Mendenhall said of his desire for an increased workload.

While Mendenhall looked sharp in OTAs, so did Dwyer.

After rushing for 1,395 yards as a both a sophomore and junior, he felt he was ready to turn pro.

While learning the Steelers’ playbook during the off-season practices, he seemed to make a smooth transition from a back who lined up in a three-point stance in Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense to one who lines up in a two-point stance.

“It’s not that big of a deal,” said Dwyer, who’s 5-foot-11 and 229 pounds. ”Really, it’s just getting back to normal. I lined up in a two-point stance throughout high school and even my freshman (at Georgia Tech) before we switched offenses.”

“He’s coming along fine,” Kirby said of Dwyer. “In him, you see a big man with natural running ability. You see a guy day in and day out on our meeting room who’s eager to learn his trade and do all the little things that go along with playing that position.”

For Dwyer, and Summers, too, for that matter, the real test comes in training camp when the pads go on and the hitting begins.

“People are going to see over the next few months as our running backs continue to develop that this is a real good group,” Kirby said.

It better be if the Steelers want to run the ball as much as team president Art Rooney II wants them to.

When asked about the Steelers’ new commitment to the run, tackle Willie Colon said he and the rest of the offensive linemen welcome the chance to run more.

“Obviously, there’s no doubt we want to run the ball this year,” Colon said. “And they’re finally putting the run game on our backs. We’re a physical line. We’re all beef-eaters. There are no vegetarians up front. So we’re excited. We finally have the keys to the Cadillac.”

Late models, of course.

Times sports writer Mike Bires can be reached online at mbires@timesonline.com

06-13-2010, 10:28 AM
Wow......Mendenhall is just now turning 23! It seems like he has been a Steelers longer than his age would indicate. Or maybe it's because I live in Big Ten country & I've been hearing about him for a longer time from his his days at Illinois.

06-13-2010, 11:23 AM
What surprises me is Moore is 28. For some reason I thought he was older than that. I think we have a fine stable of running backs, as long as we can stay clear of the injury bug. Just not much proven depth. Might we see a signing down the road, I don't know. Perhaps Stephon Logan adds to the mix.


06-15-2010, 12:54 AM
Wow......Mendenhall is just now turning 23! It seems like he has been a Steelers longer than his age would indicate. Or maybe it's because I live in Big Ten country & I've been hearing about him for a longer time from his his days at Illinois.

Remember too, he came out after his junior season.