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Cardinals turn to unconventional Mendenhall to boost running game

Rashard Mendenhall destroys the stereotype of a pro football player.

The Arizona running back writes poetry, studies all things spiritual and occasionally posts a blog on The Huffington Post.

Football is his job, and he says he is dedicated to it, but it does not define who he is.

Mendenhall has said his creativity off the field helps him on it, and when it comes to the running game, the Cardinals can use a fresh approach after a miserable 2012 season.

New coach Bruce Arians knows Mendenhall well from their days together in Pittsburgh and they bring a mutual respect to their new team.

An avid reader, Mendenhall estimates he reads 15 to 20 books a year.

Currently, he's reading "I Remember Union: The Story of Mary Magdalena," written by Flo Aeveia Magdalena, described by Amazon.com as "a respected visionary, healer, teacher, channel and writer."

"I'm really into literature and reading, just that peaceful time, quiet time away from things," Mendenhall said, "whether I'm writing or reading a story, learning something, kind of growing in that way."

After a standout career at Illinois, Mendenhall was selected by the Steelers in the first round of the 2008 draft, the 23rd selection overall. Arians was Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator and over the next few seasons, the two hit it off.

"Once you got to know him, you knew he was a thinking man, that he had ideas and wasn't afraid to show them, or share them," Arians said. "That's one of the things I liked about him."

Mendenhall grew to appreciate Arians as a person, as well as a coach.

"He's a very real person, very fair, straight up," Mendenhall said. "He lets you know exactly what it is, you know what I'm saying? As a player, everybody respects that. Everybody's always respected him. I've always had nothing but respect for him."

He said that in their time together, Arians "was able to see who I am personally."

"I came to work every day, did everything I was asked to do," Mendenhall said. "At the same time, I did dancing in Pittsburgh, poetry, all kind of things. He was able to see that and see the way that I worked, the way I approached my business, but also the interests that I have, and I kind of hold true to those as well."

Mendenhall's unconventional thinking got him in trouble in 2011 with his tweets following the death of Osama bin Laden.

"What kind of person celebrates death?" he wrote then. "It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never heard speak. We've only heard one side."

He also appeared to question whether two passenger jets could have taken down the World Trade Center towers.

Later, in a Huffington Post blog, he said he wasn't condoning the "evil acts" of bin Laden and apologized to anyone he had "unintentionally harmed."

His comments, he said, had to do with "religion, morality and human ethics."

Mendenhall doesn't want to revisit the past, opting to focus on looking forward, both professionally and personally.

After topping 1,000 yards rushing in both 2009 and 2010, he was limited to just six games due to injuries last season.

He comes to Arizona with full knowledge of Arians' offense and with a desire to show he can still play the game at a high level. The Cardinals had the worst ground game and the worst overall offense in the NFL last season.

New quarterback Carson Palmer doesn't know much about Mendenhall's off-field interests.

"I had no idea he is into poetry, to be honest," Palmer said. "I'm personally not into a lot of poetry, but I like Rashard a lot."

Palmer is more concerned with what happens when Mendenhall is handed the ball, or has to pick up the blitz, or catch a pass out of the backfield.

"Everybody's got their own interests off the field," Palmer said, "but that locker room is full of guys that love to play, and Rashard's one of those guys who loves playing football, loves talking football, very smart, very experienced in this system."

As for poetry and the other stuff.

"Everybody's got different backgrounds, different hobbies," Palmer said. "To each his own."

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Follow Bob Baum at www.twitter.com/Thebaumerphx