LATROBE – Steelers coach Mike Tomlin went into Sunday evening’s goal-line session looking for a short-yardage runner.
He’s still looking.
First-round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall was stuffed on three carries by the first-team defense and Tomlin criticized the rookie.
“He’s got to run harder, not over-analyze, understand what that drill’s about. It’s about hitting downhill,” said Tomlin. “Hopefully next time out he’ll be better.”
The offense was given the ball at the 1 “and-a-third” yard line and on first down Mendenhall hesitated and was blasted by James Farrior and James Harrison. Mendenhall didn’t hesitate the second time, but was stopped by Farrior.
Mendenhall received a third chance when the first teams were brought back out for a seventh goal-line snap. This time he had a fullback – tight end Heath Miller – and was stopped up the middle.
“I think I was more concerned with running the play instead of getting it in the end zone,” Mendenhall said. “I was reading the blocks, but there’s so much going on, it’s coming so fast, you’ve just got to get it in there.”
While Mendenhall was the short-yardage back at Illinois, and set a school record with 17 touchdowns, he said he never experienced anything like the violent meat grinder he experienced Sunday against the Steelers’ first-team defense.
“Just look at James Harrison,” Mendenhall said. “I don’t think you find too many college guys looking like that.”
While Tomlin said he’ll give Willie Parker a chance to be the short-yardage back. But Parker didn't get a chance since Tomlin wanted to take a good look at his prize rookie. But, just like last year, the best short-yardage runner in the goal-line drill was Gary Russell, the undrafted 21-year-old who had only seven carries last season for 21 yards.
Russell was stopped by the first-team defense on the third snap of the drill, but his second effort got him close. On the next snap, running behind Justin Hartwig and the rest of the second-team line (against the second-team defense), Russell went right and plowed easily into paydirt.
He’s added 10 pounds to his listed weight of 215, so Russell’s built for the job. He once scored 29 touchdowns as a prep senior in Columbus, Ohio, and was the goal-line runner at the University of Minnesota, where he rushed for 18 touchdowns his last season there.
“I’ve always been bigger than everybody else,” he said. “That’s how I learned to run downhill.”
Tomlin noticed. “He doesn’t overanalyze,” he said of Russell. “He gets his pads down and he finishes downhill. He adds value in that regard.”
It’s one of the reasons Russell made the team as an undrafted rookie last year. Perhaps Tomlin won’t fear his inexperience this year.
NOTES – On the injury front, QB Ben Roethlisberger (groin) did everything but the team scrimmage. Tomlin doesn’t expect his discomfort to linger. Out were ILB Mike Humpal (hamstring), TE Dezmond Sherrod (neck), S Anthony Smith (groin), and OLB LaMarr Woodley (groin). TE Cody Boyd (shoulder) was limited. All of the injured players are day-to-day. … LG Chris Kemoeatu (triceps) is waiting on a piece of protective equipment. He expects to be activated from the PUP list early in the week. … Tomlin said he met with NG Casey Hampton (conditioning) Sunday and will keep him on the PUP. “He’s not where we want him yet,” Tomlin said. … S Troy Polamalu (hamstring) said he doesn’t know when he expects to leave the PUP and get on the practice field.