LATROBE – Steelers coach Mike Tomlin went into Sunday evening’s goal-line session looking for a short-yardage runner.
He’s still looking.
First-round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall was stuffed on three carries by the first-team defense and Tomlin criticized the rookie.
“He’s got to run harder, not over-analyze, understand what that drill’s about. It’s about hitting downhill,” said Tomlin. “Hopefully next time out he’ll be better.”
While Tomlin said he’ll give Willie Parker a chance to be the short-yardage back. But Parker didn't get a chance since Tomlin wanted to take a good look at his prize rookie. But, just like last year, the best short-yardage runner in the goal-line drill was Gary Russell, the undrafted 21-year-old who had only seven carries last season for 21 yards. Russell was stopped by the first-team defense on the third snap of the drill, but his second effort got him close. On the next snap, running behind Justin Hartwig and the rest of the second-team line (against the second-team defense), Russell went right and plowed easily into paydirt.
He’s added 10 pounds to his listed weight of 215
, so Russell’s built for the job. He once scored 29 touchdowns as a prep senior in Columbus, Ohio, and was the goal-line runner at the University of Minnesota, where he rushed for 18 touchdowns his last season there.
“I’ve always been bigger than everybody else,” he said. “That’s how I learned to run downhill.”
Tomlin noticed. “He doesn’t overanalyze,” he said of Russell. “He gets his pads down and he finishes downhill. He adds value in that regard.”
It’s one of the reasons Russell made the team as an undrafted rookie last year. Perhaps Tomlin won’t fear his inexperience this year.