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Pittsburgh Steelers Running Back Rashard Mendenhall May Start Week 1

Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season is upon us, and if you are a team whose starting lineup is set in stone, then count yourself lucky. Most teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers still have some decisions to make and there are only days to go. A big one for the Steelers is who to start at running back. And recent information tells us it may just be Rashard Mendenhall.

Now, if there is anyone who is shocked more by this than me, I don’t know who it would be. I have said for the bulk of the offseason, I did not expect Mendenhall to be ready for the opening weekend, and would not be in the lineup until midseason. So imagine my surprise first when he is taken off the PUP list, which means he is eligible to play week 1, but now head coach Mike Tomlin has said today he has not ruled Mendenhall out to start this Sunday against the Denver Broncos.

Keep in mind, Mendenhall is coming off a torn ACL from last season, and should he start and play, he will have returned in a shorter period of time than Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has from his torn ACL. And people have called Peterson superhuman for such a return. What does that make Mendenhall?

Overall the Steelers running back situation is tenuous. Mendenhall is coming off the knee injury and his primary backup Isaac Redman is dealing with a nagging groin injury of his own. The healthiest back on the depth chart right now is Jonathan Dwyer, which is saying something since he has struggled mightily to stay well in his short tenure in the league. Rookie Chris Rainey is dynamic and explosive but certainly not an every down, run between the tackles type of back, and the rest of the roster is filled with, well filler.

You put all this together and you have a situation where Tomlin may feel he has to rush Mendenhall back into the lineup, even if only as part of a committee of backs, to be sure to produce enough of a running game to complement the passing game.

But I disagree with this strategy. The NFL season is long. And often times, it’s a matter of attrition as to who wins. The team that can field the greatest number of healthy bodies during the playoffs has a decided advantage over those who are just too beat up to compete. By putting Mendenhall out there week 1, you might improve your chances of winning against the Denver Broncos, but does the risk of him being more hurt by the middle of end of the season outweigh the reward of having him on the field for 18-20 snaps on Sunday?  Or is this all just a smoke screen to give the Broncos something to think about?

Ultimately I have faith in coach Tomlin and what he will decide.  At this point I think we will all have to deal with the 2 words no fan ever wants to hear. “Gametime decision”. But I have to eat my words from earlier in the year when I thought there was no chance Mendenhall would be ready this quickly. And once they start popping pads on Sunday we might find out he’s not.

What do you think Steelers fans? Who do you think the Steelers should start at running back? Should Mendenhall or even Redman play or should the team hold them back to be more healthy for division play? Let me know what you would do.

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