It wasn’t too long ago that Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Rashard Mendenhall was an afterthought for coach Mike Tomlin’s plans for the first four or five games of the season.
But remarkably that may not the be case as Mendenhall has been practicing with the Steelers’ first team unit and according to several Steelers’ players, including captain Brett Keisel, who told Jim Wexell of Scout.com, ”He looked incredible.”
Linebacker Lawrence Timmons also chimed in on Mendenhall by saying “I thought he looked great. He was running well, finishing runs. I’m excited for him.”
The Mendenhall journey to recovery has been a bit of an odd one, dating back to when he was activated in mid-August, just days after Kevin Colbert predicted he would be shelved for the first six weeks of the season. Then on Monday Mendenhall got rid of the red jersey and took regular snaps with the starters at practice. That alone is a surprising development considering he wasn’t expected to return until at least a few weeks into the season.
Now Mendenhall hasn’t ruled out playing in Denver, though that still would appear to be a long shot.
Tomlin is toying with the idea of giving Mendenhall the start Sunday night when the Steelers begin the 2012 season in Denver, but it’s more likely that Tomlin is just giving the Broncos something else to worry about as they game plan.
Starting Mendenhall so soon is a risky proposition, one I can’t see Tomlin making. You just don’t know about serious knee injuries and while Mendenhall may look good in practice right now, you just don’t know how his knee will react to the pounding of game action.
If Mendenhall doesn’t go, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are expected to receive the majority of the carries in the opener.
Yet while it still seems like a long shot to see No. 34 back on the field Sunday, one thing we’ve learned so far is not to count him out. His speedy recovery has been a surprise to this point and Mendenhall just may give Steelers fans one more surprise come Sunday night.