Analysis: Mendenhall has yet to hit his stride in NFL
August 23, 2009 4:00 AM
Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall breaks away from the Redskins' Brian Orakpo in first-half action last night.
By Gerry Dulac Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
LANDOVER, Md. -- Rashard Mendenhall took a hip-hop dance class after he recovered from his broken scapula because he wanted an activity to keep him busy and help with his conditioning. He liked it so much he even took part in a recital at a local school in front of 1,000 people.
So far, that has been his best performance of 2009.
Mendenhall is still trying to find his way in his second season with the Steelers, still trying to discover and settle into a style that eventually will be his signature in the National Football League. Two games into the preseason and he still is searching for the right steps.
That is certainly not the case with Stefan Logan, late of the Canadian Football League. This free-agent return specialist did in one game against the Washington Redskins what Mendenhall has been unable to do in two years -- make his coaches and teammates take notice with his elusive running style.
"That was my goal when I first came here -- to make people notice me," said running back Willie Parker, an undrafted free agent in 2004 who went on to become a two-time Pro Bowl selection. "People are starting to look at No. 41 [Logan] the same way."
All Logan did in a 17-13 loss to the Redskins last night was compile 205 return yards, including 157 on four kick returns, and look like a player who could cause some anxious moments for opposing special-teams coaches. And he did that on a wet, slick surface at FedEx Field.
"I think it's pretty obvious he did a nice job," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's an incomplete body of work and we'll continue to evaluate him.
"He represented himself well as a returner."
A 5-foot-6, 180-pound dynamo who had 1,366 yards from scrimmage for the British Columbia Lions of the CFL in 2008, Logan returned four punts for 48 yards and had kick returns of 60 and 45 yards in the second half against the Redskins -- the former setting up a field goal in the third quarter.
"We stand on the sideline and we take bets on when he's going to take one to the house," Parker said. "And he's going to take one to the house."
Logan was signed as a running back, but he also has received playing time at wide receiver in training camp. Either way, it is unlikely he will make the team as one of those position players.
But he could make the 53-man roster as a return specialist -- a possibility that might have been enhanced when rookie Joe Burnett fumbled a punt return for the second time in two games, setting up the go-ahead touchdown.
"First time out, I thought I did pretty good," Logan said. "I'm just trying to open some of the coaches' eyes."
He did that on any number of occasions against the Redskins, something Mendenhall, the 23rd overall selection in the 2008 draft, has been unable to do.
Mendenhall has not been a disappointment in his return from an injury that caused him to miss most of his rookie season. After all, he rushed for 26 yards on five carries against the Redskins, a respectable 5.2 yards per carry.
But, in his first preseason outing against the Arizona Cardinals, he carried nine times for 24 yards, an average of 2.7 yards per carry, and his longest run was only 7 yards. What's more, when he had a chance to make a defender miss on a run off right tackle, Mendenhall easily was tripped off his feet by a solo tackler.
Meantime, in his first outing of the preseason, Parker had four carries for 13 yards against the Redskins, but one was a 3-yard run around the right side that gave the Steelers a 7-3 lead.
"I feel good," Parker said. "I still don't think that I'm in playing mode. I still need to get hit a little bit. Next game, hopefully, I'll take it to another level and get hit a little bit more and make a couple more plays in the open field and I'll be ready."
The Steelers wish they could say much the same thing about Mendenhall. He has not even looked as good as last year when he led the Steelers in preseason rushing with 222 yards.
But they are saying the same thing about Logan.
"That's what it's all about -- when you get your shot you got to make the best of it," Logan said. "I want everyone to know I'm a Steeler. I try to let the team have a lot of confidence in me. I want to let them know I can do the job."