By Teresa Varley
When Super Bowl XLIII ended and the 2008 season was put to rest in grand style for the Steelers, the 2009 season officially began for Rashard Mendenhall.
A mere spectator on the sidelines not just during the Super Bowl but for most of the season after suffering a season-ending broken shoulder against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field in September, Mendenhall is happy to have a fresh start.
"As soon as the Super Bowl ended it was a relief," said Mendenhall. "It was great to win and get the ring and celebrate, but then I was back on the same plane as my teammates, no longer on injured reserve. When the Super Bowl ended, my season started. I am trying to do everything I can to get ready. I am looking forward to next year."
Mendenhall was back in Pittsburgh a short time after the game, working out at the team's indoor facility on a regular basis, running, catching passes and improving his footwork. When the voluntary workouts began two weeks ago, he already had plenty of work in.
His shoulder is healed. He is feeling great. He used his rookie season to adjust not just to football, but to what comes with being an NFL player away from the game. With that behind him, he is ready for one thing – to focus on football.
"I am comfortable and ready to get started," said Mendenhall. "I feel a lot more comfortable with all of the outside stuff. As far as on the field I probably will feel a little like a rookie still. The season was shortened for me so I didn't get that kind of experience. You get accustomed a little bit to the games. But I got all of the off the field stuff taken care of so I can concentrate on football. As far as everything on the outside I am comfortable,"
While he was sidelined last season Mendenhall kept an eye on running backs Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore. He watched how they approached things, their moves on the field and what made them such a strong duo for the running game.
"I tried to pick up as much as I could from them," said Mendenhall. "I watched film and got into the playbook, trying to pick up the game as much as I could, getting as many mental reps as I could."
It wasn't an easy road though. Mendenhall had high hopes for his rookie season and never envisioned spending the season on the sidelines.
"It's tough and frustrating," said Mendenhall. "Being a competitor you want to be with your teammates. You want to go out and compete. Being sidelined is a hard pill to swallow. It's over now. I am relieved. I am at the same level as all of my teammates looking forward to the next time I put a helmet on.
"I just want to have success this season. Whatever my role is, I don't know, but I just want to be successful in what they ask me to do."