On the Steelers: Mendenhall responds to Tomlin
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Some players do not respond well when embarrassed publicly, benched for a game and called out by the head coach for not practicing well.
One of them was not Rashard Mendenhall.
Mike Tomlin apparently pushed another right button when he did not play his young running back on offense in Cincinnati Sept. 27. The coach cited this as his reason after that game, a 23-20 Steelers loss: "Rashard wasn't on his details this week, so I chose not to play him on offense."
Imagine how Larry Johnson or Allen Iverson might react to that kind of public humbling. Mendenhall responded by not only paying attention to details but starting the past five games and helping the Steelers to five consecutive victories by averaging 105.6 yards rushing per game during that stretch.
Running backs drafted in the first round might be excused if they complained about a benching; Walter Abercrombie once accused his coaches of abandoning the running game when he felt he was not getting enough carries, and that was with Chuck Noll as coach.
"I have a level of respect for Tomlin and the way he does things," Mendenhall explained yesterday. "He's very fair, honest and straightforward. With that alone, being negative about it is not going to help things. Learn a lesson from it and move forward, that's what I tried to do."
He has moved so far forward to be in a tie for fifth among AFC backs with 573 yards rushing. His 5.7 yards per carry are second in the NFL only to league-leader Chris Johnson (6.7) among those who have at least 20 carries. His seven runs for 20 yards or more are tied for third in the NFL.
Instead of rebelling after what could have been a humiliation in the third game of his second season, Mendenhall
took Tomlin's lesson to heart.
"It kind of heightened my awareness and the level of seriousness of how everything's run here, still being young and figuring things out," Mendenhall said. "It was a lesson and kind of helped me in my career."
That was how Tomlin intended it.
"It was not punitive in nature," the coach said after practice yesterday. "You have to educate. He's a young guy, he's got a lot of talent, and I think so far so good. That was the intent -- more detailed preparation, more attention to detail. For a young guy, not only does it prepare him, but it instills confidence in him from coaches and from other people in the huddle."
Those others in the huddle have noticed, particularly a couple of offensive linemen.
"I think it definitely had an effect on him," said center Justin Hartwig. "The natural response is if somebody's telling you you're not doing your job well enough, you're going to do something to step up and show you are ready to do the job. I think he probably prepared a little bit harder, and he made the most of things."
Added tackle Willie Colon, "I think he's answered the bell. I think he understood that nobody's job is safe. You're accountable for your actions, you have to be ready when they call you. I think when Mike did that, it was kind of a wake-up call to him, especially that everybody kind of realized it, too. He's doing a great job, he's grown and we're proud of him."
If it were left up to Ryan Clark, he would have played in Denver Monday night, but he said he is happy Tomlin made that decision for him.
"I would have played," Clark said. "That just means he's smarter than I am because, obviously, I'm standing here right now."
Clark said he learned of Tomlin's decision late in the week but had an inkling of it when he did not take many repetitions with the first-team defense in practice.
"I appreciated the fact that he did take it out of my hands. It kind of gave me a way to breathe either way. I didn't feel like I was cleared to play and I just chose not to because coach Tomlin made the decision, and also if I do play and get sick I couldn't live with that, either."
Clark did exert himself in pregame drills Monday, running sprints and other exercises so doctors could test his body's reaction. He said he passed all those tests.
"No ill effects at all," Clark said. "Worked out before the game, got a lot of tests run just so we could have more information how my body would react without a spleen and a gall bladder."
And if the Steelers have to go to Denver for a playoff game, what then?
"I'm not sure," Clark said. "We haven't really talked about it, but we won the game, so I don't plan on us going out there anyway. We're just going to try to win the rest of them, so I don't have to go out there and play."
Tyrone Carter, who replaced Clark at free safety, was named yesterday as the AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Carter intercepted two Kyle Orton passes and returned one for a 48-yard touchdown.
Ben Roethlisberger said nothing new in ESPN's E:60 show Tuesday night about the sexual-assault civil case filed against him that he did not say at his news conference in July, but it nevertheless brought the subject to the locker room again.
"People understand he has a mother, he has an aunt, he has cousins, he has female family members," Colon said, "so to put something like that [sexual assault] on his name ... I don't know what happened. I'm going to ride with him and believe it didn't happen. But, despite whatever happened, that's still a knock on him. As an elite quarterback as he is and as much as he means to the sports world, to have that kind of tarnish his name is hurtful. I know as much as he [says] it doesn't, I think it does hurt him. For the most part, all I can do is be there for him as a friend and whatever he needs me to kind of help him get through it, I'm going to do ...
"I think if anything it kind of motivated him to kind of push through it and be there for us. Sundays are kind of an escape for him to kind of escape the madness. Off the field, he knows I'm here for him and on the field I have his back no matter what."
Linebacker Lawrence Timmons returned to practice yesterday for the first time since his right ankle was sprained Oct. 25 against the Minnesota Vikings.
Defensive end Travis Kirschke, though, did not practice. He has not practiced since his left calf muscle was torn Oct. 25.
First Published November 12, 2009 12:00 am