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fordfixer
10-06-2009, 12:57 AM
Steelers' Mendenhall answers criticism

By Kevin Gorman, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 46615.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_646615.html)

If there was any concern that Rashard Mendenhall was replicating the failures of the last running back they selected in the first round, the Steelers were whistling this tune by the end of the first half Sunday night: Don't Worley. Be happy.

With Willie Parker sidelined by turf toe on his left foot, Mendenhall started against San Diego and showed why the Steelers made him the 23rd overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft. More importantly, he proved that he wasn't the second coming of 1989 first-round bust Tim Worley.

Mendenhall rushed for a career-high 165 yards and his first two NFL touchdowns on 29 carries in the 38-28 victory over the Chargers at Heinz Field. He also had two receptions for 26 yards to finish with 191 yards of total offense in only his second career start. It took Worley 12 games to crack the 100-yard mark, and he never had more than 104 in his entire career.

"He definitely played up to his potential," said Parker, in the final season of his contract, of his possible heir as the starter. "He was drafted in the first round, and everybody always questioned his running style and his running ability. I think he answered those questions."

The breakout performance came only a week after Mike Tomlin chose not to play Mendenhall on offense at Cincinnati because the Steelers' coach wasn't comfortable the second-year back would execute his assignments.

"It was a chance to be out there and to play, for people to see me and how I play," Mendenhall said, "because people haven't had much of a chance to see me play up until this point."

Where Tomlin questioned his attention to detail, Mendenhall called it a learning experience. He turned to Parker and coaches for advice as part of his preparation for his first start since the fourth game of last season.

"He paid extreme attention to every little detail during the course of the week," Parker said. "The little things that he used to not do, he actually did them. He showed a lot of maturity."

Mendenhall burst up the middle and spun off a defender for a 9-yard gain on his first carry. After running 4 yards for a first down, Mendenhall scored his first NFL touchdown on a 1-yard run at 11:49 of the first quarter.

"You could see the urgency in his eyes, the fight in his eyes," Steelers right tackle Willie Colon said. "We told him, 'Trust us. We believe in you.' I think he felt like (he had something to prove) after last week. I think he felt like he really needed to get it going. He's a young kid. He's trying to grow into an NFL back. He's going to be good. We're proud of him."

Mendenhall proved that point on a 2-yard run, when the 5-foot-10, 225-pounder was stoned by San Diego outside linebacker Shaun Phillips. It brought back memories of the jarring hit by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis that separated Mendenhall's shoulder and ended his rookie season in his first career start on Sept. 29, 2008.

This time, Phillips took the brunt of the collision and briefly left the field. Mendenhall later leveled Chargers inside linebacker Kevin Burnett on a blitz pickup with a block that left Burnett sprawled on the turf.

Afterward, Tomlin said he never lacked confidence in Mendenhall.

"He's a talented young man, a good guy," Tomlin said. "He went through what some guys go through. He addressed it and moved forward, and he showed what he's capable of doing. He needs to continue to do that and build off that as we move forward. I'm sure that's his mindset but, more importantly, we're going to make sure that our actions match our mentality."