The reason I am looking so far ahead is because of one person—Rashard Mendenhall. A 5'10" 225-pound running back who can finally take the Steelers back to their power rushing style.
Currently, Willie Parker is in a four-year contract that he signed in 2006. He will be 30 by the time that contract is up, and I have a feeling the Steelers are not going to re-sign him due to his age and diminishing play.
Back to Mendenhall.
He did not have really any playing time this year to showcase his abilities because of a season-ending shoulder injury suffered during the first Baltimore Ravens game this year.
He did show a lot of promise in his Illinois Fighting Illini days from 2005-2007. His total career rushing stats there over a three-year period were 2,539 yards on 388 attempts and 22 touchdowns.
For three years, these numbers may not seem so great, but he only had over 100 carries one of those years, which was 2007 (262). And in that year he gained nearly 1,700 yards and scored 17 TDs.
Just look at his amazing rush yards per attempt average. It is an astounding 6.5 yards per carry. In 2006, he had an 8.2 average when he had 640 yards on just 78 carries. Those are some crazy numbers.
He will also most likely take over the return game for the Steelers, which in the past had been a problem. He had done some kick returning in 2008, averaging just under 20 yards per return. He should be a huge help in that part of the team as well.
Defense cannot carry a team the entire way without any help from the offense. However, the Steelers almost did that in 2008 with one of the worst offenses in the league.
Ben Roethlisberger had a lot of problems this past season, and if the running game cannot get back to the way it was playing a few years ago, Pittsburgh is going to be in deep trouble trying to win in 2009.
Rashard Mendenhall can fix these problems if they continue to persist through the next year or so.