Lolley: Mendenhall has learning experience

As with most rookies, there was some good and bad about Rashard Mendenhall's game at Minnesota.

As with most rookies, there was some good and bad about Rashard Mendenhall's game at Minnesota.

Mendenhall, the Pittsburgh Steelers top draft pick, finally displayed some of the moves expected out a player of his pedigree. He also lost a pair of fumbles, neither of which came on particularly hard hits.

The Steelers worked very hard on ball control with their running backs during training camp. And that was one of the only strikes against Mendenhall while at Illinois – he didn't always protect the ball.

Now, maybe the rookie has a much better idea of why the coaching staff was so rough on him in regards to taking care of the football. Everybody in the NFL is big and fast. It doesn't take a big hit to knock the ball loose if you're not careful with it.

That said, Mendenhall had some dazzling runs against the Vikings, bouncing plays to the outside, spinning out of tackles, cutting back against the grain and lowering his shoulder at contact to get more yards.

Once he takes care of the football better – and he will – he's going to be special.

© Willie Reid may very well have won himself a job with his performance against the Vikings.

Reid, who is battling Dallas Baker for a roster spot, caught the ball well in traffic and showed some moxie.

He's still not an option as a return man as the Steelers had once thought, but his experience in the passing game probably gives him the edge over Baker, who will still makes some mistakes.

Reid's experience could be critical because it does not appear that Limas Sweed, the team's second-round pick, will be ready to help right out of the gate.

© Paul Ernster punted well, kicking four times for a 48-yard average and placing three balls inside the 20, all in the first half. He also was solid on kickoffs, placing his attempts in the second half inside the 5.

Mitch Berger never got an opportunity to punt as he was scheduled to handle those duties in the second half the opportunity never arose.

© If you're looking for some insight into the first round of cuts, quarterback Dennis Dixon, wide receivers Jeremy Bloom, Marvin Allen and Micah Rucker, running back Justin Vincent, defensive linemen Jordan Reffett, Ryan McBean and Martavius Prince and guards Doug Legursky and Matt Lentz did not play against the Vikings.

Dixon, however did not play because head coach Mike Tomlin wanted Byron Leftwich to play under fire in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. And Allen gets an exemption on the practice squad as a player from Great Britain.

The rest of that group are likely done here.

© Leftwich's play against the Vikings ended any chances of Charlie Batch regaining his No. 2 spot when he returns from his broken collarbone.

© Watching the offensive line play, it wasn't the middle of the line that was the problem on most plays in the first half, it was the edge.

Marvel Smith got all he could handle from Jared Allen, which is no surprise. Allen's the best pass rusher in the NFL.

It was also easy to see why the Vikings' run defense was the best in yards per carry in the NFL last season. Those two big guys in the middle really plug things up and the linebackers are quick to the ball.

I did like some of what I saw from Justin Hartwig at center. As mentioned, he held the point of attack against the likes of Pat and Kevin Williams. He does, though, lose his footing way too much.

© The defense really stepped up in a big way in that first half, particularly the run defense.

Adrian Peterson got next to nothing every time he touched the ball, which is saying something.

The pass defense allowed some plays, but once the Steelers really start game planning and running some of their games up front, the pressure will be greater.

Getting Troy Polamalu back on the field will help as well.

© Tyrone Carter had a little extra hop in his step back where he broke into the NFL and also played in college. He was really flying in there and lighting guys up, bringing Peterson down in the open field a couple of times.

Anthony Smith also looks much better up in the box at strong safety than he does at free.

© We got to see a little bit of Orpheus Roye in this one and it appears that he still has a little left in the tank. That means Nick Eason doesn't make this club.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.


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