August 5, 2008

Unreasonable Expectations?

They better be rookie mistakes. He has to run harder. Hopefully, next time out, he’ll be better.”

- Mike Tomlin
So I may be the last one to read/hear that Rashard Mendenhall was "stuffed" three times by the first team defense during Sunday's practice. Nevertheless, I'm sure this caused at least a few jaded souls to start doubting his goal line prowess.

Which transitions nicely to today's topic - Are our expectations as fans too aggressive?

For discussion purposes, I've laid out a couple of points below. Let's review, shall we?

#1 ~ "Learning Curve?" What's that?
With all first round picks increasingly finding themselves under their collective fans base's microscopes, draft pick expectations have changed. First round picks are expected to be able to jump right in and contribute significantly from day one. Notice the word, "significantly." Sure, there were first rounders in the past who did this. But by and large, and this is just drawing from what I remember growing up watching football, even first rounders were allowed SOME learning curve. This isn't to say they're not afforded time to learn now. But it seems the longer a pick takes to "develop" into the player the team/media/overzealous fans have created, the more likely he will be viewed as a "bust." And hey, listen, this is 2008. There are hundreds of thousands of players that would love to step right in and take any job in the NFL. Still, these players need at least a few chances. Ish.

#2 ~ This is the NFL.
Ok, first of all, it was ONE practice, on ONE day, during ONE drill. That aside, I think Mendenhall himself summed things up best when he said...
"Just look at James Harrison, I don’t think you find too many college guys looking like that.”
The transition from College to the NFL, as we all know, isn't exactly elementary. It takes work. There's a new playbook, you're up against much better athletes, and yeah, there's more pressure. For a kid who JUST turned 21 in June, I'm pretty sure it might be a little challenging at first. So with this in mind, I say we give him until at least the third week of training camp to figure it out. In otherwords, if you were thinking of purchasing, you should probably chill on that for a little.

Your turn dudes and dudettes -- Any thoughts on this?

PS - Just so you guys know, I had a way better Photoshop planned where I was going to make Mendenhall look like an ancient Greek dude (ala Caesar) being worshiped by Steeler fans. But honestly, I stayed late at work yesterday to write this post, and by like 7:30, I had to just lower MY OWN expectations. Hence, Mendenhall on a pedestal. Hope that didn't spoil it for you...

Oh yeah, and check out who's been recently anointed King of Pittsburgh Sports via Ballhype. Congrats, Tecmo!

Now, if only OFTOT could get some love...[hint hint, nudge nudge]...

Short-yardage plans stuffed [SteelCityInsider]
Mendenhall stuffed in goal-line drill [Beaver County Times]
Goal-line drill is big hit for Steelers [Observer-Reporter]


tecmo said...

Yeesh, "king" might be a bit much. I'd go with something humble, like "Divinely-Annointed Emperor of the Human Race (As It Relates To Pittsburgh Sports)".

Thanks for the shoutout, though. Kudos to the support from OFTOT readers/writer(s).

Mendenhall's failure in the drill is most likely 99% because he's a rook, but its been a troubling trend since The Bus left. Every year, the same drill happens. Every year, it seems like the D wins. Willie had 2 TDs last season through 16 weeks, and at the time, he was leading the league in rushing. That's a major gap between yards gained and points gotten. We shouldn't have to rely on big, white TEs to score from the red zone, but that seems to be why the coaches have favored that setup in recent seasons. Mendenhall will succeed eventually, but we need a goalline presence in the RB corps badly.

Cotter said...

Yeah, you're right. I should've gone with King of Humility and Pittsburgh Sports/Mini Horses.

Anyways, I totally hear you. We NEED a ground threat in the red zone. FWP can get us 75 yards to pay dirt, but he ain't no battering ram.

And to be fair, it's not like this "role" was just arbitrarily thrust upon Mendenhall. I mean, "goal line threat" was his MO at Illinois. So it's only fitting that he is expected to assume the same role as a Steeler.

All I'm saying is patience is a virtue. Mendenhall will be fine (most likely). And he's lucky enough to have FWP to take some of the pressure off of him.

I foresee great things.

Now, we really need to give him a nickname. Any ideas?

Cotter said...

PS - my nickname idea is "Wrecking Ball"...

Rhymes with Mendenhall.

The Immortal Silky Johnson said...

No, our expectations are not "too aggressive." As first round draft choice I have an expectation for the player to provide a significant contribution to their team from day one (barring injury).
The learning curve,the speed of the game, and the physicallity are all challenging obstacles that rookies needs to overcome to make it in the NFL. However as first round draft choice you should have fewer obstacles to overcome, than a 7th round pick.
May I pose this question to you?
Isn't it really the team that really sets the expectations? Teams draft the players, and pay them according to when they were selected.

The Immortal Silky Johnson said...

Tecmo - congrats on being the Benevolent Ruler of all that is Pittsburgh sports, and mini hoarses.

tecmo said...

Wrecking Ball is good. My best effort was Beetlejuice

Cotter said...

silky ~ Very good points. I completely agree that rookies have to learn to play the game the way it's played at this level, including speed, physicality, awareness, etc.

To your question about the team setting expectations ~ I say, yes and no. A team does impliedly set certain expectations by drafting a player in the 1st round. But it's just as much the media and fans that perpetrate this vision of what a guy SHOULD be. Plus, they only pay them those hefty salaries because that's what the market has dictated they have to spend. It obviously originated somewhere, and I'm not sure where that was, but as the situation is now, most teams don't have much of a choice if they want to sign their guy before camp.

And, I must say, I'd expect nothing less from an Eagles fan. No offense man, you know your my boy. But when your team's fans boo their own pick on DRAFT DAY, it's pretty obvious where they stand on this issue.

The Immortal Silky Johnson said...

Cotter- No offense taken. We really weren't booing McNabb himself. We were booing not taking Ricky Williams. Had we drafted him talk about setting expectations. We are not the only ones guilty of booing draft choices either.

domski43 said...

tecmo - congrats on being anointed king of all Pittsburgh sports n'at!

about rookies = i'm all for commissioner goodell's idea to start a rookie wage scale. rookie pay is out of control, i mean these guys are getting paid more than proven veterans.

what kind of expectations do you think the veteran players have for rookies walking into the locker room who are getting paid more without having played one down in the nfl?

domski43 said...

silky j - i'm picturing you eating ice cream in bed while watching reno mahe show brian westbrook how its done

random asshole said...

I was going to go on a long rant about people's absurd expectations, using the many angry rants from last season about Timmons and Tomlin as examples one and two of Chicken Little Syndrome. Instead, I'll say something else.

If you're drafting a rookie with the need for him to come in and fill a sizable hole in your lineup immediately, your team already HAS big problems. Notably, you're relying on excellence from a person who's never set foot on an NFL field.

In conclusion, these expectations aren't too aggressive--they're absolutely stupid.

Mikey The Suit said...

I think it has more to do with two things unrelated to performance or expectations. First, we're such ardent fans and it's been so long since the Steelers have played, that we tend to jump on any nugget of Steelers-related "news." We're hungry and will eat whatever comes our way. Geez, Limas Sweed gets contacts and it spawns a million posts. Second, the nature of communication has changed over the years. When we were kids, the only news we'd get from training camp would be a wrap-up story in tomorrow's paper and maybe something on the news. Now, with the internet we get 24/7/365 coverage of everything. Do we really need a story about LaMarr Woodley bringing a TV because he likes Law & Order? In past years, this one drill would have been news only if someone had gotten injured.
P.S.: Caesar was Roman

The Immortal Silky Johnson said...

Domski- I with you on rookies getting paid way too much without putting in the work. It will be strawberry. Mahe is going to beshucking and jiving.

Random- Ouch, that was harsh. Why is having an expectation for a player to perform stupid?

Anonymous said...

I was ONE practice, ONE drill- whatever - and the kid just turned 21. Besides, there's no line to run behind...he would've been better off in Dallas, New England or even with the Jets where they solid o-lines. It'll be a few years before he sees any daylight.

domski43 said...

anon - i hope you are wrong about waiting a few years to see day light, but you are right about the offensive line. Why does Mendenhall immediately get the blame? True its his job to get the ball in the endzone, but a running back is only as good as his offensive line (except Barry Sanders of course).
P.S. the jury is still out for the Jets' offensive line. Last year Thomas Jones was terrible.

The Steelers could not move the ball 1 1/2 yards against a defense minus casey hampton and troy polamalu?

Once Mendenhall converts a short yardage touchdown we will all forget the goal line drill during PRE-season

tecmo said...

It's important and deserves coverage because, as I said above, this is a recurring theme. Mendenhall, Willie, Haynes when he was here...everyone who tried to assume Bettis' role has pretty much failed on this drill in camp. If you are a sports blogger, and your team does something, whether in a game or in practice, that doesn't meet expectations, you're going to be primed to write about it. The newspapers have reported the Sweed contacts, Woodley tv, any of that noise, not really Steelers bloggers. We're here as a fan giving an opinion, and when your team disappoints, your opinion isn't going to be all that positive.

I agree that Mendenhall is getting too much flak for one drill and I expect him to do great things. Are my expectations high? Yes, but what do you expect from fans of a first round draft pick on one of the most storied franchises in the NFL in a position (RB) that is highlighted in Pittsburgh like nowhere else? Couple that with Willie only getting 2 rushing TDs last year when he was lights out for the other 99 yards of the field, and we've got ourselves an issue that needs to be discussed in some facet.

The Immortal Silky Johnson said...

My expectations for players are reserved for game day. Of course it would be nice to hear that it took the front seven to bring him down after carrying them 8 yards into the end zone.

Still A. Fan said..., our guys are pretty good at goal line defense.....

Cotter said...

mikey ~ thanks for the comment! I agree that the coverage has gotten kind of ridiculous. But you know what? It really just means more choices. Some people might care about Lamarr Woodley's tv viewing habits. Like me, for instance. Kidding-ish. And thanks for the tip on Caesar. I knew I should've paid attention in 8th grade english.

still a. Fan ~ thanks for the comment! Definitely not easy to pound it in on the likes of our D.And PS- Best handle ever.

Steelhead said...

Uhhhh...I thought Caesar was Roman.

Anyway, the kid will learn. He'll be fine.

Cotter said...

Yes, Caesar was Roman. Sorry, sometimes I forget the minor details when I'm trying to put together a decent, entertaining post and accompanying imagery.

Jesus, you'd think I said Big Ben was a receiver.