Last week, I said that it was possible for Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall to return after Week 4. Today, the chance of that happening looks greater than before.
The Steelers seemed to have made a good decision of keeping Mendenhall on the shelf prior to their bye week. The fifth-year pro quickly recovered from reconstructive knee surgery, and has practiced with the team without any restrictions so far this season.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley and the rest of the Steelers are eager to see Mendenhall return to the field of play, and are optimistic that his return will help Pittsburgh’s running game (because it can’t get any worse).
Through the first three weeks of the regular season, the Steelers’ offense was 30th in the NFL in rushing (65.0 yards per game), and has amassed a minuscule 195 yards on the ground.
Isaac Redman, Mendenhall’s replacement, leads the team with only 72 yards, and as a team is averaging 2.6 yards per carry (last in the league).
Although Mendenhall’s return is highly anticipated, the 23rd overall pick of the 2008 draft says that his speed and ability to cut isn’t where it needs to be. Obviously, it’s good enough to get him back on the field, but I don’t suspect him to get a heavy load right away.
Redman should start Week 5 and split carries with Mendenhall, which will give third-string running back Jonathan Dwyer a much smaller role in the backfield rotation.
The team’s leading rusher over the past three years will still need to get accustomed to Pittsburgh’s new offensive scheme, but I don’t think this will be much of a problem. I expect big things from Mendenhall when he returns. Not just because he’s the Steelers’ best back, but because of what he has to prove to the organization.
At the end of this season, Mendenhall will be an unrestricted free agent, and will want to put everyone on notice that his knee is just fine, and that he can still be the franchise’s top rusher.
With that type of motivation, the Steelers’ running game should definitely be lifted from the depths of the league’s rankings.
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