This week on Monday Night Football, two NFL rookies will receive their baptism in fire. They are Steelers rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall, and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
Rashard Mendenhall was the Steelers’ 1st round draft pick out of Illinois. In his only season as a starter at Illinois, Mendenhall rushed for 1,681 yards and 17 touchdowns, and was named Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
Since joining the Steelers, Mendenhall has not been able to break into the starting line-up, and he only has 10 regular season rushes under his belt. Those have accounted for 28 total yards. However, the injury to Steelers starting running back Willie Parker has thrust Mendenhall into the spotlight.
Mendenhall makes his first NFL start Monday Night against the Baltimore Ravens. As if starting his first game weren’t enough pressure, Mendenhall has to do it in front of a national audience on MNF. And to add even more pressure to the situation, he must make his debut against Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens’ #1 ranked defense.
Facing Ray Lewis is intimidating enough for veterans. For a rookie making his first start, “terrifying” is probably an appropriate way to describe it. Hint to Mendenhall: Make sure you wear Depends under your pads.
The Ravens haven’t allowed a running back to rush for 100 yard in 21 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the NFL. Opponents are averaging only 70.0 rushing yards per game against them. Moreover, they haven’t allowed a single rushing touchdown this season.
I’m sure Mendenhall is wondering why he couldn’t be playing the Cincinnati Bengals in his debut. Where are the sorry teams when you need them?
Joe Flacco started his college career at the University of Pittsburgh. He dreamed of playing at Heinz Field. However, that dream was of leading the Pittsburgh Panthers to victory, not of playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Flacco has started two games already, accumulating a record of 2-0. Unfortunately, those two starts were against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns. Those two Arena League teams were a nice warm-up, but Flacco is going to be facing the real deal this time.
The Steelers’ defense is always among the NFL’s best. Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau’s has succeeded in confounding veteran quarterbacks like Peyton Manning. Joe Flacco doesn’t stand a chance.
Joe, when you see a guy with long hair on the other side of the line of scrimmage moving around like a crazy person, be afraid. Be very afraid. His name is Troy Polamalu. No matter what you anticipate he’s going to do, you’ll be wrong. Just accept it. His strategy is going to be to confuse you. And it’s going to work. Take my word for it.
To make matters worse, James Harrison is going to be trying his best to separate your head from your shoulders. You do know James Harrison, don’t you? He’s the Steelers’ Pro Bowl linebacker who single-handedly destroyed the Baltimore Ravens last year on Monday Night Football.
In preparation for Monday’s game, I’d suggest you practice saying this phrase; “May I get up now, Mr. Harrison?” You’re going to be saying that a lot.
As a former Pitt Panther, I wouldn’t mind seeing you succeed in the NFL. Just not this week. This week, you’re going to get a lot of much needed experience. It’s just not the kind of experience you are hoping for.
Both rookies dreamed of someday making it to this point. They have achieved their dream. They will be starting for an NFL team on Monday Night Football. All eyes will be on them. Frankly, I think they’re both going to learn what the old proverb means that says “Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it”.
Welcome to the NFL, rookie!