The "fumble-prone" label is one that sticks to a ball carrier, often well past the time it's actually applicable. A lot of running backs, at some point in their career, are prone to coughing up the pigskin or at least perceived to be.
More often than not, they'll eventually get it rectified, and go on to have a healthy career featuring tightly secured footballs. Either that, or they'll just disappear from the NFL all together. The really talented ones fall into the first group.
Which brings us to Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall(notes). He got stuck with the fumble-prone label very early in his rookie year. He's still trying to work his way out of it. From Scott Brown at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
When Mendenhall had fumbling issues during his first preseason in 2008, veteran players made him carry a football around the Steelers' practice facility — and they fined him if someone was able to knock it out of his grasp.
"He don't fumble that ball, he's out to the house," wide receiver Hines Ward(notes) said. "It's starting to become a knock on him now. One thing we've got to control is the Steelers not beating the Steelers."
Fumbles are an odd thing. As fans, the second any running back gives up a football, we cry out, "You IDIOT! How can you be so careless? Eat some bench, moron."
What we don't consider is that every time that running back touches the ball, eleven of the world's meanest, most motivated, most antagonistic genetic lottery winners are willing to trade their first-born child to get that ball out of his hands. It's a miracle that there's not a fumble on every play. If you or I had 20 carries in an NFL football game, you know how many times we'd fumble? I'd guess about 20.
Not that that excuses Rashard Mendenhall or anyone else. The ball carriers are also highly motivated and genetically blessed. They're paid well to hang on to the football. That's what those massive forearms are for.
Mendenhall will eventually get it worked out. He's too good not to. In the meantime, though, it gets harder before it gets easier, because the more you become known as a fumbler, the harder the defense tries to separate you from the football. It's something to watch as Mendenhall grows into a workhorse back for the Steelers.