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07-31-2011, 02:12 AM
Mendenhall's focus on football after turbulent offseason
By Ralph N. Paulk, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, July 31, 2011
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 49274.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_749274.html)

It's conceivable that Rashard Mendenhall could have lowered the temperature on his controversial tweets if he had argued that posts of Osama bin Laden's death was misunderstood.

Perhaps, his insinuation that 9/11 was more conspiracy than an act of terrorism would have quickly faded if the oft-enigmatic running back had opted to defuse the issue with a passionate rant of remorse.

Instead, the mercurial spark plug who helped ignite the Steelers' Super Bowl run in 2010 repeatedly sidestepped questions Friday about the clearly coherent posts from a Twitter account he seemingly regrets opening.

"It's not been an issue," Mendenhall told reporters after the morning walk-through. "I've addressed that with clarifications."

Mendenhall wouldn't confirm or deny he's discussed the issue with coaches and management prior to arriving at St. Vincent College for the first day of training camp Thursday, three days after representatives of the NFL Players Association ratified the collective bargaining agreement.

And he didn't flinch with persistent inquiries concerning his tweets. Like a skilled politician, the steely-eyed Mendenhall shifted the conversation.

"It's all about football now," Mendenhall said. "I'm not even into Twitter anymore."

However, Mendenhall grudgingly conceded that some Steelers' fans will have a difficult time letting go of the inflammatory rhetoric that forced the hand of team president Art Rooney Jr., who said in a statement, "... it is hard to explain or even comprehend what he meant with his recent Twitter comments."

If Mendenhall appeared stoically unapologetic, it shouldn't have caught anyone by surprise, according to running back Isaac Redman.

"Rashard is most definitely going to speak his mind," Redman said. "But that doesn't mean he's the bad person some people are trying to make him out to be. He's one of the better guys I've met in my life.

"Rashard doesn't drink. He doesn't do a lot of things. He felt strongly about a certain situation, so he just spoke his mind. In the end, it was blown out of proportion.

"When I first heard it, I knew right away it was going to be a big thing," Redman said. "I really didn't know what to think at the time. Maybe, if he had worded things a little differently we probably would have moved on by now."

Yet, in a world where multimillion-dollar athletes attract microscopic scrutiny for daring to be politically incorrect, Mendenhall is seemingly bracing himself for another round of verbal jabs. He's been called everything from a communist to anti-patriotic.

In some sense, he concedes, one of the hardest blows was delivered by linebacker James Harrison, who is trying to find a path toward redemption after criticizing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and labeling Mendenhall "a fumble machine" in a magazine article.

Mendenhall fumbled at the Green Bay 33 on the first play of the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLV to thwart a scoring chance with the Steelers trailing, 21-17. The Packers capitalized on his miscue when Aaron Rodgers tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings to make it 28-17.

At first, Mendenhall recoiled at Harrison's criticism. Then, he refused to lash out even though his fumble seemingly tightened the screws on Green Bay's 31-25 victory.

"Everything is good between me and James," said Mendenhall, who fumbled just twice last season. "We're teammates, and it's all good. I don't follow media reports, so we rock regardless."

For the Steelers to win a ninth AFC championship, Mendenhall and Harrison insisted they must perform even better this season. More importantly, both concede they must put the offseason controversies - including the Super Bowl loss - behind them.

"It's easy to think the entire season was a bad season when you lose the Super Bowl," said Mendenhall, who led the Steelers in rushing (1,273 yards) and scoring (13 TDs), including 63 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

"It was a bad taste. We had to pull back and realize what a great season we had, especially when you consider all the adversity we had to face."

Despite the adversity -- including league fines for illegal hits, a sometimes-anemic passing game and injuries to safety Troy Polamalu and center Maurkice Pouncey -- Mendenhall was often reliable down the stretch.

And he knows winning is a remedy for an image problem.

"My game has evolved and matured," said Mendenhall, who suggested the storm will pass before the Steelers travel to Baltimore for the regular-season opener. "You just want to add to your tool box because everything about this game changes.

"Right now, we have to do everything we can to prepare to get back to the Super Bowl. With the lockout situation, camp just hopped right up on us. We want to maximize our camp, and everything else will take care of itself."

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