|ESPN.com: AFC North||[Print without images]|
|Tom Szczerbowski/US PRESSWIRE|
|Rashard Mendenhall will make his first career start Monday night.|
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
PITTSBURGH -- In a locker room full of veterans, much of the talk with the Pittsburgh Steelers Wednesday centered on a rookie tailback.
First-round pick Rashard Mendenhall will make his first career start for Pittsburgh in a big rivalry game with the Baltimore Ravens Monday. Mendenhall will replace injured tailback Willie Parker, who sprained his left knee last week.
There are a lot of factors involved that would make any rookie wide-eyed. Mendenhall faces a tough defense in Baltimore in a nationally-televised game on Monday Night Football, and the winner will take sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
It's a lot for a 21-year-old rookie to ponder, but Mendenhall seems at ease with the situation.
"We'll just try to take it all in stride and prepare for this game," Mendenhall said. "We're trying to get as good as we can this week and as good as I can this week and come into this game well-prepared and have fun."
Mendenhall's teammates are behind him. Pittsburgh has a history of running the football successfully no matter who is in the backfield, and Mendenhall has to be the next guy to step up, even if it's just for one game.
"He's not Willie Parker and he doesn't need to go out and try and be Willie Parker," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Wednesday. "He needs to go out and be the best Rashard he can be."
How good is Mendenhall at this moment? No one knows for sure.
Three games into the regular season, Mendenhall remains somewhat of a mystery. So far he's been limited to just 10 carries for 28 yards. He also has one reception for 11 yards but hasn't had many opportunities because Parker (263 rushing yards, three touchdowns) is off to such a strong start.
Mendenhall received all 10 rush attempts in the opening game against the Houston Texans. But he has a chance to double that number and get into the 20-carry range this week against the Ravens, who haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 21 consecutive games.
"I think he'll be ready," Pittsburgh offensive tackle Willie Colon said. "It's a matter of just making him aware of what he needs to be aware of and holding onto the rock... It's a division game and he just has to meet the intensity."