By Teresa Varley
Rashard Mendenhall saw plenty of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis when he played video games with his friends and now the rookie running back will be going against the real thing. And he knows it won't be easy.
"He is a great player. There is no doubt about it," said Mendenhall. "In this league and business you play great players every week. He is a great player. I look forward to playing against him."
Mendenhall will make his first NFL start on Monday Night Football against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field, filling in for Willie Parker who suffered a sprained knee against the Philadelphia Eagles.
He knows it's a big stage to be making a debut on and if he didn't, his cell phone has been ringing and text messages building up with friends who are happy to remind him.
"It's Monday night. All of your peers and friends are watching," said Mendenhall. "There is a little extra going into it. It's exciting to be at home and a night game. It's a little different atmosphere in Pittsburgh. It's going to be exciting.
"I am not really nervous. It's just regular nerves like any other game. I prepare for every game the same. I will just be out there more. I take it all in stride and will prepare for this game. I want to try and get as good as I can this week. Coming in to the game I will be prepared."
It will be his first real test for Mendenhall, who did not have a carry the last two weeks. He is ready for the challenge.
"Just like coach says, whatever happens the standard of expectation doesn't change," said Mendenhall. "I have to go in there and play and play good."
The Steelers selected Mendenhall in the first round this year to give Parker a spell and for situations like this. Having him start this early wasn't in the original plans, but neither was an injury to Parker.
"I know he is ready to go out there and show what he can do," said fullback Carey Davis. "He is ready. That is what he came here for. They brought him here for this. We expect big things from him."
Mendenhall battled a fumbling problem in the preseason but said he has made some adjustments and isn't concerned about that. He is getting plenty of reps in practice this week and knows that the preparation will be a huge plus for him.
"I am getting some extra work and it helps to get prepared for the game," said Mendenhall. "I feel comfortable with the offense. It's just week by week, putting in the game plan and everybody getting accustomed to the game plan."
At least Mendenhall won't have to go it alone in the backfield as he will get help from Davis and Mewelde Moore.
"We lose Willie so everybody has to fill a role and step up a little bit," said Davis. "He is our number one guy. We expect him to do things. Without him out there we need to step up and take his place.
"Whatever role I have to fill I am ready to fill that role. I have to know fullback and tailback just in case things like this happen. I am prepared."
Injury Update: Casey Hampton (groin), Brett Keisel (calf) and Parker (knee) did not practice and are out for Sunday's game. Others who didn't practice included safety Troy Polamalu (quad), cornerback Deshea Townsend (heel), linebackers LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) and Donovan Woods (hamstring) and wide receiver Hines Ward and tackle Marvel Smith were given a rest but not injured. Cornerback William Gay (ankle) was limited in practice.