Steelers' running game turns back to Rashard Mendenhall
Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY
2:27PM EST November 18. 2012 - PITTSBURGH — Rashard Mendenhall has jumped right back to the front of the rotation in the Pittsburgh Steelers backfield after missing a month with a left Achilles tendon injury.
He has reclaimed his starting role for Sunday night's critical AFC North showdown against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field.
"I feel pretty good," Mendenhall told USA TODAY Sports following a full week of practice. "No setbacks."
His return is a shot in the arm for the Steelers, who will be without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder, ribs), receiver-returner Antonio Brown (ankle) and safety Troy Polamalu (calf).
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And it sends a strong message about coach Mike Tomlin's confidence level in the fifth-year pro, given Mendenhall apparently won't be eased into the role. Tomlin confirmed Mendenhall's status during an interview with the team's website.
Without Mendenhall, the Steelers' rushing attack thrived with a stable of backs. In October matchups against the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins, Jonathan Dwyer became the first Steelers back since Willie Parker in 2008 to post back-to-back 100-yard games. Then Isaac Redman gained a career-high 147 yards against the New York Giants.
"It's a good thing for our team to continue to win and to see our running game doing well," Mendenhall said.
While NFL starters rarely lose their job to injury, the emergence of Mendenhall's replacements provides options.
Mendenhall insisted Friday he was never concerned about his spot on the depth chart.
"I don't get into allof that," he said.
Mendenhall missed the first three games of the season as he recovered from a torn right anterior cruciate ligament, then played one full game before injuring the Achilles at Tennessee on Oct. 11. He had rushed 19 times for 74 yards, averaging 3.9 yards a carry.
He told USA TODAY Sports he thought the Achilles became susceptible to injury as he overcompensated while trying to regain full strength in his surgically repaired knee.
With Mendenhall's comeback, the other backs will not be suddenly pushed into the corner. Expect offensive coordinator Todd Haley to share the workload, based on need, circumstance and performance.
If Mendenhall were the coordinator, how would he split up the carries?
"Good thing I'm not the offensive coordinator," he said. "We'll see how he divides it up."
To the men up front, the more, the merrier.
Left tackle Max Starks says the blocking schemes won't change, regardless of runner.
"I think the biggest thing is that it gives the defense a different look," Starks told USA TODAY Sports. "As long as we block and provide the holes where they are supposed to be, anybody can run back there."
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Mendenhall sucks. You can find better backs from the 5th round on. Time for Colbert to go and Rooney to tell Tomlin to stay the hell out of personnel decisions.
The Steelers OL is a smash mouth OL, designed for power running. Dwyer & Redman will benefit most from these guys, while Mendy will flit around looking for holes to open up.
When the Steelers drafted Mendy, Chadman always got the feeling he wasn't the #1 target, but his value was simply too good to pass up. There is no doubt in Chadman's mind that Mendy is the most talented RB on the roster. He just doesn't necessarily fit the steelers persona.
Schiavone's Race Career:
I personally wanted Ray Rice that year....and would still take him easily over Mendenhall.