By Teresa Varley
Running back Rashard Mendenhall is learning what could be a costly lesson this week.
After fumbling twice against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night, his teammates are making sure that the rookie gets plenty of practice holding on tight to the ball.
Mendenhall has to carry a football around with him all week, with the only time he is allowed to put it down being when he is eating lunch.
If a teammate knocks the ball out of his hands, Mendenhall has to pay them $100. If they knock it out, get the ball and return it to the running backs meeting room then its $500 Mendenhall has to pay out.
"It's what I was told to do so I have to carry it out," said Mendenhall. "If they knock it down I have to pay them. If they knock it down and get it from me and take it to Willie (Parker) it's a real problem. I have to pay a lot."
Hines Ward and Willie Parker are the ones who came up with the idea and got things rolling Monday, including writing the rules on the white board in the locker room (photo on left) and giving Mendenhall a football with his name written on it.
"We are trying to keep turnovers down so any extra motivation," said Ward. "I was watching a program the other day and the running back had a fumbling problem and they made him walk around on campus. I thought what better way to give guys incentive and make him conscious of holding that ball to help him out. You don't want to take away from his running ability and being so conscious that he is not worried about it. But at the same time when he is running, his style of running, you want to make sure he protects the ball. It's really to benefit him and help him out as much as possible."
As of lunchtime on Monday Mendenhall had the ball knocked free by defensive backs Tyrone Carter and Travis Williams.
"He has to hold on to the ball," said running back Willie Parker. "A few people made him fumble already.
"It's a team thing, just to let you know that the team cares about you. If you are hurting the team we want to console you. Right now we are consoling him in a different kind of way."
Mendenhall fumbled in the first quarter against the Vikings and they recovered and six plays later Adrian Peterson scored on a one-yard run. He fumbled again in the fourth quarter with the Steelers driving and down 10-9, but the defense was able to stop the Vikings and put the ball back in the offense's hands for a game-winning field goal drive.
"Peer pressure is the ultimate motivator," said head coach Mike Tomlin. "The reality of it is he has to hold on to the football by whatever means that gets done. I saw him walking around the building holding on to the football. As long as he doesn't fumble it he is fine."
Mendenhall knows it's not characteristic of him to fumble and realizes the mistakes that he has made and is working on correcting it.
"It's frustrating for me to let everybody else down," he said. "Me personally I know myself and I know what happened. I know what I have to work on. It's a learning experience. I need to move forward."
And for this week, he will be moving forward with a football in hand.