Four teams in the NFL are projected to feature a change at starting quarterback to start the season. The only team to have made a change at both starting quarterback and running back is the Arizona Cardinals.
Rashard Mendenhall hasn't received near the preseason ink Carson Palmer has, but his task is no less daunting. The team doesn't just need an improved running game. The Cardinals need a running game, period. Just check the numbers.
That's right, the Cardinals have finished in the bottom ten in rushing every year since 2004, and even then they finished eleventh from the bottom.
New head coach Bruce Arians hand-picked the Cardinals' new primary ball carrier. Is he the man for the job?
Time to put Rashard Mendenhall on the scales. It's Part 6 of my "Cardinals: New Faces" series.
|YOUTHPERIENCE - Doesn't it seem like Rashard Mendenhall has been around for twenty years? It's only been five. Five years in Pittsburgh, two 1,000-yard rushing seasons, a Super Bowl, and he just now turned 26. Furthermore, Mendenhall has fewer than 1,000 touches during his career. Adrian Peterson had 388 in 2012 alone. Fresh, young and experienced, there's no reason Rashard Mendenhall's best days couldn't be ahead of him.||FUMBLER - Rashard Mendenhall has earned a reputation as a fumbler. Is it fair? After all, he fumbled just once in 228 carries in 2011 and only twice in 324 carries in 2010. However, Mendenhall coughed up the ball three times in just 51 carries last season. Talk about a horrible ratio. Only eight running backs lost more fumbles last season, while 70 running backs had more carries. "He NEVER tucks the ball," my most diehard of diehard Steeler friends told me of Mendenhall. Plus, Mendenhall's grip seems to get looser the bigger the moment becomes.|
|EVERY-DOWN BACK - Bruce Arians has expressed little confidence in Ryan Williams this preseason. So, if Mendenhall is required to be on the field -- no matter the down and distance -- the head coach seems confident his guy can handle it. Pass blocking, catching the ball, short yardage, ground gaining, goal line, at a meaty 5-foot-10, 225 pounds, Mendenhall posted more than 3,000 yards for Pittsburgh from 2009-11 and scored 29 touchdowns.||OUTSIDE THE BOX - Rashard Mendenhall isn't your typical jock. "He's an outside the box thinker," said Arians of his running back. Personally, I think I'd like Rashard Mendenhall. You know, birds of a feather, and all that. However, NFL organizations and sports fans in general don't always take kindly to free-thinkers, especially the outspoken ones. Mendenhall has had more than one incident during his career when it would have been better for him to keep his mouth shut. And last season, he rebelled against a lack of playing time and the Steelers showed him the door.|
|BLACK & GOLD BOND - "There's no doubt Mendenhall is a feature back," Bruce Arians told NFL Network after the Cardinals signed him in March. Coach loves player. Player loves coach. Arians and GM Steve Keim didn't spend much time kicking tires on running backs this offseason. Three days into the 2013 free agency period, Arians went and plucked Mendenhall from his Pittsburgh past. The two won a Super Bowl together in 2009.||DIME A DOZEN? - When I was a young, 1,000 yards rushing was a milestone we judged running backs by. Today, 1,000 yards rushing impresses us about as much as well-made toast. Sixteen NFL backs eclipsed the 1,000-yard barrier last season. Mendenhall has two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, but only once in five years has he cracked the league's top ten in rushing. In other words, he might provide the Cardinals a solid running back this fall, but he's not special.|
|HE'S NOT BEANIE - Beanie Wells was a gifted running back. And during the few times I chatted with the former Cardinal running back, he truly came off as a good dude. But there's a reason labels stick to players -- they've earned them. Wells provided plenty of advanced warning while at Ohio State that he doesn't play the game with a lot of passion. The Cardinals drafted him in the first round anyway. He proceeded to provide flashes of hope, but there is so little fight in him as a football player that no one in the league is willing to take a chance on a 25-year-old back two years removed from a 1,000-yard rushing season.||PLAN B? - Rashard Mendenhall has a legitimate chance of succeeding as a solid back for the Cards, I truly believe that. However, there are enough red flags in his game that it would be wise for the Cardinals to have a solid Plan B. So...what is it? A fragile Ryan Williams? How about 26-year-old Alfonso Smith and his 102 career rushing yards? A rookie fifth-round pick? A rookie sixth-round pick? Patrick Peterson?|
Rashard Mendenhall and Carson Palmer have more in common than the backfield they now share and their status as newcomers. Both players are also years removed from playing truly quality football.
However, Mendenhall and Palmer do represent position upgrades for 2013 and could become valuable veteran leaders for easing the transition into the Bruce Arians Era.