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mesaSteeler
12-24-2011, 08:23 AM
Long way home: Steelers' Mundy shines in backup role

By Scott Brown
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, December 24, 2011

One of his fondest Christmas memories is getting a Barry Foster jersey, something Ryan Mundy had "begged" his mother to buy him.

More than a decade later, coach Mike Tomlin made it clear to Mundy that the second No. 29 Steelers jersey he received was anything but a gift.

It came shortly after the Steelers had taken Mundy in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. The rookies were in an orientation class on handling the media, and Tomlin popped into the room and started interviewing them. That is when Mundy received his first welcome-to-the-NFL moment.

"I don't remember exactly how he phrased it. I just remember the concept of being from Pittsburgh is not going to help me make this team," said Mundy, a Woodland Hills graduate. "I kind of had to get my head out of the clouds and come to work just to make the team."

Mundy, who will try to help the Steelers beat the St. Louis Rams today at Heinz Field, hasn't just made it with his hometown team. He has quietly carved out a key role on it.

His highlights this season include recording a team-high 10 tackles in Kansas City and making his first career interception while filling in for the injured Troy Polamalu. The 6-foot-1, 209-pounder also caught a 33-yard pass from punter Daniel Sepulveda in early October, a play that loomed large in a 38-17 win over the Tennessee Titans.

"Every time we've put Ryan in the game over the years, he's delivered for us, played at a very competitive level," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said.

Mundy didn't even make the 53-man roster coming out of his first training camp, and the Steelers didn't sign him to their practice squad until November.

Mundy has made steady progress since then, and he is now the top backup at both safety positions. Mundy is also second on the Steelers in special-teams tackles with nine.

"I think he's leaps and bounds from where he was when he first got here," Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said. "He really has adjusted to understanding the speed of the game and understanding where to be and how to play. He's going to be an extremely good safety in this league."

Mundy said getting repetitions in practice and learning the tendencies of the players around him have been the keys to his development.

"Knowing what to do on paper and physically going through it are two different things," Mundy said. "I knew the playbook from Day One."

That he picked up the playbook so quickly is no surprise.

Mundy has degrees from Michigan and West Virginia. He also correctly answered all 29 questions he attempted on a Wonderlic test, prior to the 2008 draft.

Tomlin still calls him "Wonderlic." And the fifth-year coach presumably is the one that made sure Mundy was issued No. 29 in a nod to his score on the aptitude test.

Mundy is the fourth player to wear that number since Foster, who suited up for the Steelers from 1990-94, and he appears to have a long-term future with the team.

If Mundy, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's prep Player of the Year in 2002, stopped to think about how his career has played out, he probably would shake his head.

He is living the dream of just about any kid that grew up eating chipped ham sandwiches and hoagies and drinking pop.

He is wearing the same number as one of his favorite players. Another of his Steelers favorites, Carnell Lake, is his position coach.

"I'm sure when I get to look back, 10, 15 years down the road, I'll have a better appreciation for it," Mundy said of playing for the Steelers, "but right now, I'm just working."

STEELERS MATCHUP OF THE WEEK

STEELERS JAMES FARRIOR VS. RAMS RB STEVEN JACKSON

STEELERS -- LB JAMES FARRIOR

There is no question James Farrior has lost a step from last year. Farrior is still a decent run-stopper from his inside linebacker position, but has struggled trying to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. Farrior has started 152 career games at inside linebacker for the Steelers. He has 81 tackles this year, two sacks and three pass defenses.

RAMS -- RB STEVEN JACKSON

The Rams are limited offensively aside from Steven Jackson. Jackson is a three-time Pro Bowler who has rushed for 966 yards and has caught 39 passes this season, despite missing the better part of the first two games with a leg injury. Jackson is closing in on his seventh-consecutive 1,000-yard season and currently holds the NFL's longest active streak of 1,000-yard campaigns.

RAMS -- RB STEVEN JACKSON

Where Jackson has a distinct advantage over Farrior is catching passes out of the backfield, and look for the Rams to try to expose that. When St. Louis has trouble finding room for Jackson to run, they have gotten him the ball out of the backfield. Jackson caught nine passes against the Bengals last week. Since becoming a starter in 2006, Jackson has registered 304 receptions -- second only to Reggie Bush's 335.

Scott Brown can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.

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