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Mendenhall gets gripping lessons

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By Mike Prisuta
Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2008
 

Rashard Mendenhall is having a ball this week on the South Side, but it's costing him.

"I'm losing a little bit of money right now," the Steelers' No. 1 pick acknowledged on Monday afternoon.

The hope is that, in the process, Mendenhall will learn a lot more about ball security, specifically the value of it at the NFL level.

Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward figured a little education was necessary after Mendenhall lost a pair of fumbles in the Steelers' 12-10 preseason victory over Minnesota on Saturday night.

Mendenhall arrived at the Steelers' South Side practice facility on Monday morning to find the following message scribbled onto the grease board in the locker room: "Take Mendenhall's ball away and get $100 from him. And you get an extra $500 if you bring it to the RB's meeting room."

There was also a special football waiting for Mendenhall's almost undivided attention.

"It says 'Mendenhall's $100 ball.' You get it, you will get paid," Ward said.

"First-round guy, he can afford $100."

Mendenhall has been assigned to keep the ball in his grasp just about anywhere and everywhere he goes this week leading up to Thursday night's preseason finale against Carolina.

The practice field, where Mendenhall won't always be asked to carry the ball, is one exception. The Steelers' South Side cafeteria is the other, something Mendenhall didn't realize at breakfast but had been informed about by lunchtime.

"We didn't want guys knocking food all over the place," Ward said. "But anywhere else he's at other than the football field he will have that ball. Meeting rooms, bathrooms, when he's out pumping gas he better have it or he's going to get fined."

Mendenhall reported that as of early Monday afternoon veteran safety Tyrone Carter and free agent-rookie defensive back Travis Williams had earned their $100.

"It's real tough, a little unrealistic if you ask me, with 80 guys, all the time, all day," Mendenhall said. "But it's something they asked me to do so I have to do it. It's part of being a rookie, you have to do what's asked of you. Especially with a veteran, a leader like Hines, it's just something you have to do."

The hazing/educational tool was inspired by Ward seeing the college football movie "The Program" the other night.

And it's transcended the normal division of offensive and defensive platoons.

The offensive guys don't exactly have Mendenhall's back on this one.

"They aren't helping me, but they haven't been trying to strip me as hard as the defensive guys," he said.

"I understand what they're trying to do. That's part of it, and it's well-deserved.

"It's not a confidence issue for me at all, it's never been. Me carrying the ball around, that's for these guys, so that they know I'm willing to do it."

The fumbles spoiled what was an otherwise productive night for Mendenhall against the Vikings.

He carried 15 times for 79 yards, averaged 5.3 yards per carry and broke off runs of 21, 18 and 16 yards that didn't result in turnovers.

Running back Willie Parker said it's imperative Mendenhall get a grip as his NFL career gets off the ground.

"You start losing the ball in the preseason, they're going to come after it in the regular season," Parker said.

Any means necessary to avoid such an occurrence was OK with coach Mike Tomlin.

"Peer pressure is the ultimate motivator," Tomlin said. "The reality is he has to hold onto the ball."

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