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stlrz d
10-17-2009, 10:38 AM
on the spot.


Polamalu, Mendenhall set to start RB rotation will be made on spot
STEELERS
Saturday, October 17, 2009
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In the same week they lost defensive end Aaron Smith with a season-ending injury, the Steelers will get two of their injured Pro Bowl players back for their game tomorrow against the Cleveland Browns. Problem is, only one will start.

That is safety Troy Polamalu, who missed the past four games with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee. He has practiced all week and will start against the Browns, wearing a protective brace that will restrict his mobility.

But it is likely running back Willie Parker, a former two-time Pro Bowl selection who has missed the past two games with a turf-toe injury, will be replaced again by Rashard Mendenhall, even though Parker practiced all week and said his toe is feeling better.

Right now, the Steelers do not have any planned rotation for Mendenhall and Parker, meaning how much Parker plays depends on the flow of the game. He has rushed for more than 100 yards in five consecutive games against the Browns (1-4), who rank last in the league in rush defense.

If Parker does not start, it will be the first time since he became a full-time starter in 2005 that he did not start a game in which he played.

"He's looked good in practice," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "We're anxious to see him out there again. We'll go up to the last minute and see what's up. It'll be nice to have both of them healthy."

Mendenhall returned to practice yesterday after missing practice Thursday with flu-like symptoms, and he looked so good the coaches apparently had no concerns about starting him against the Browns.

In his past two games, Mendenhall has rushed for 242 yards, averaged 5.5 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns. He also has runs of 22, 27, 32 and 39 yards in his past three games.

The Steelers will continue to go with the hot hand -- or, in this instance, the hot feet -- against the Browns, who have lost 17 of the past 18 meetings with their AFC North rival.

"It really doesn't matter," Mendenhall said. "It's how the game plays out, I'm sure. We'll both be out there."

In the past Mendenhall played every third series for Parker, who rushed for 93 yards on 25 carries against the Cincinnati Bengals in the game in which he was injured.

But it is not clear what type of rotation, if any, the Steelers will use with both players back in the lineup again. Either way, it seems Mendenhall will get more playing time, if not the bulk of the playing time, rather than Parker.

"It all depends on who's hot, what's going on, the play selection, all that," Mendenhall said.

Said Parker: "I don't know how they're going to do it."

The Browns have allowed an average of 170.4 yards rushing per game, which ranks 32nd in the NFL; however, slowly the Browns have tried to whittle that average since allowing 225 yards to the Minnesota Vikings and 186 to the Denver Broncos in the first two games.

Surprisingly, the Browns' rush defense, which ranked 28th in the league in 2008, has not significantly improved since they traded in 2007 for nose tackle Shaun Rogers, who made the Pro Bowl in his first season in Cleveland.

"He's obviously a big force, but they got 10 other guys on their defense; he can only do so much," said center Justin Hartwig. "We're not going to double-team him the whole game -- I'll be blocking him by myself a lot -- but you definitely need to double him. He's a game-changing type of player, so you have to do those types of things."

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