The Steelers were in the news on Easter Sunday, and for a welcome change the news had nothing to do with the judicial branch of government.
Nonetheless, the news was far from happy, as Steelers Nation learned that Willie Parker had signed a one year deal with the should be rival Washington Redskins. Parker’s departure was not surprise, although must be considered a little disappointing on several fronts.
Parker’s story is the stuff that Steelers Nation, of the “how dare you over look us” chip on our collective shoulders, love. Didn’t get to play in college. Didn’t get drafted. Buried on the depth chart behind Jerome Bettis, Duce Stanley and, yes, even Verron Hayes during his rookie year.
Yet Parker capped of his sophomore season with the longest run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history during Super Bowl XL in Detroit.
Before we say adieu, let’s pay that moment its proper homage.
Steelers to Face Life Without Willie Parker
Many believe that the clock began ticking toward Willie’s departure the day the Steelers drafted Rasshard Mendenhall. Parker never let such talk get him down, vowing to take the rookie under his wing.
For a while it looked as if Parker had nothing to worry about, as Mendenhall was injured in his first start against Baltimore, and then disappeared from the Steelers South Side complex. Mendenhall of course got off to a very bad start in 2010, finding himself benched for the Cincinnati game.
But Parker had the misfortune to get injured in that game, and Mendenhall exploded in his place against San Diego.
Neither Mendenhall, nor the Steelers looked back, as he wracked up over 1,100 yards rushing along with 25 catches for 261 yards.
As a player who started the season with questions about his attitude and commitment, the incredible heart Mendenhall displayed in the disastrous loss to Kansas City remains the Steelers lone bright spot from that day.
No one questions that the Steelers need a solid backup for Mendenhall.
Mike Tomlin has suggested that Mewelde Moore is up to the task. Moore’s play in 2008 certainly suggests that, but his performance dropped a level in 2009.
Others have suggested that Frank “The Tank” Summers and/or Isaac “Redzone” Redman might be up to the task. Or the Steelers might look to the draft as early as the second round.
All of the above are getting their just discussion in both the press and the blogesphere. But there’s one issue everyone seems to miss.
The Unasked Question
Mendenhall, while still not yet a complete runner, has all the tools to be a high caliber NFL powerback.
But can he hold on to the ball?
According to Pro Football Reference, Mendenhall only coughed up the ball 3 times in 2009. My how the memory can play tricks, as it seems like a lot more. Perhaps that’s because he seemed to cough it up in critical situations.
And this did not begin in 2009, as fumbles plagued Mendenhall during his rookie preseason campaign.
One of the reason’s why Mendenhall’s fumble total did not climb higher was that Mike Tomlin took him out whenever the Steelers needed to salt one away.
And that is where we’ll miss Willie Parker.
Steel Curtain Rising has been a Mewelede Moore backer from the get go. But if Moore exceeded the expectations of most in 2008, he seemed to reveal his limits in 2009.
With the quarterback hurting and the Steelers desperately needing to run out the clock against Miami, Mike Tomlin turned to Willie Parker.
Afterwards, Ed Bouchette speculated that Tomlin was making a last ditch attempt to show Parker he was wanted. Maybe he was.
But it seemed to me that Tomlin probably entrusting the close to Parker’s hands.
What a good set of hands they were. Steelers Nation will miss those.
Critics have argued that a big part of Mendenhall’s fumbling problem is tied to his ball handling technique, and by inference, he can be coached to improve.
But can he?
The importance of that answer being “yes” takes on new signifigance with Willie Parker’s departure.
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