This is a big year for Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall. The 23-year-old former first round pick is entering the season as the undisputed starter in Pittsburgh, and he’ll be called upon to run the rock early and often. After Fast Willie Parker lost a step (or two or three), he got the ax and now he’s off to join Mike Shanahan’s 2006 all-star fantasy backfield in Washington. Super Bowl XLIII hero Santonio Holmes knuckleheaded his way off the team, earned a four-game suspension for smoking bowls and got traded to the Jets for a measly fifth round pick. After his dirtbag antics in Georgia, Ben Roethlisberger earned a suspension that’ll keep him on the sidelines for at least the first quarter of the season (maybe more if the Commish doesn’t reduce his suspension from six games to four). That’s a big chunk of the offense that won’t be available to start the season. So yea Rashard, no pressure, man.

The Steelers were a pass-happy offense last season, but with so many weapons missing in the passing game, the ground attack will have to be heavily featured. Mendenhall needs to be up for the challenge. He has no choice, really.

I had a chance to speak with Rashard while he was at the ESPN Rise Games. A brand ambassador for Champion, Mendenhall discussed the Champion Athlete’s Creed, a set of principles designed to promote fair play and sportsmanship for young athletes, his new role has the top option in the offense, what it’s like preparing two quarterbacks for the season and Mendenhall’s assessment of his fantasy value this year. Here’s the video: