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Steelers will be fine whether or not Mendenhall is ready.

The questions surrounding the Steelers backfield won’t fully be answered until the 2012 season is in the books. For the time being though we can dissect the possibility that Rashard Mendenhall won’t be available for the upcoming season and how that will affect the current offseason plans of the team.

Ed Bouchette wrote an article on Monday talking about Mendenhall and recounting some previous comments by Steelers GM Kevin Colbert.

They do not believe Rashard Mendenhall will be of much use to them in 2012, which is the final year of his contract.

It’s possible Mendenhall may have had his last carry with the Steelers.  Sources told me that the Steelers will not count on Mendenhall returning to form until at least the 2013 season, and his contract with the Steelers will have expired by then. GM Kevin Colbert basically said he’s not counting on him until 2013 when he said this on Feb. 13: “I never feel good about an ACL until a year. I’m not a doctor, but that’s my mindset. If he gets back before that, to me it’s a bonus.”

Even if he does get back before that, however, he’s not expected to be at the level he was as a running back before the injury in the playoff game at Denver and subsequent surgery. The Steelers not only have lost Mendenhall, they likely won’t re-sign UFA Mewelde Moore.

Considering that ACL injuries normally take 9-12 months for a full recovery, sometimes longer, the earliest he could conceivably be back in action is the start of the 2012 season. That’s an absolute best case scenario though and hardly one that can be counted on by the coaches.  Admittedly there have been cases of players coming back sooner than expected, such as the famous Rod Woodson comeback to play in Super Bowl XXX. That was a recovery for the ages and one that will go down in the record books as one of the best ever. He wasn’t near 100% but we all remember him guarding Michael Irvin and then pointing to his knee afterwards.

Counting on Mendenhall to duplicate that effort is either realistic or necessary.  It would nice to see him play and be effective in 2012 but that would be just a bonus because the team has the means to have an effective ground game this season.

Isaac Redman will get his chance to improve upon the playoff performance from last year where he rushed 17 times for 121 yds and also had 2 catches for 21 yds. He clearly took advantage of his opportunity and showed what he could potentially do consistently. Redman has always played with a chip on his shoulder trying to shake the small school label (Bowie St.) that many have stuck on him. He’ll get that chance next season and regardless of whether Mendenhall can come back and play or not.

At this point there’s no reason to think he can’t carry the load, I truly believe that. You can’t blame the guy for the limited carries he’s had so far in his career. He’s taken advantage of his opportunities and shown an ability to not only break tackles but also have some pretty nimble feet for a guy that runs as hard as he does. If there is a knock against him it’s that he won’t run away from anyone but who says there’s anything wrong with a solid 5 yds every time  he touches the ball?

There is plethora of young talent that has a lot to prove but that doesn’t mean they are incapable. Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay, and Baron Batch will all be fighting it out this offseason for the primary backup role to Redman.  Although every one of them is largely unproven, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that one or more could really make some noise this coming season. You can make a case for keeping a guy like Mewelde Moore around for insurance, and that wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. However sometimes you just have to take a chance on the young guys to step up and you just be pleasantly surprised.

If they aren’t completely sold on the stable of running backs they have now they can always look to the draft, for a guy like Isaiah Pead for example. They talked with him at the combine and both parties expressed mutual respect for one another. We shouldn’t read anything into that necessarily but keep it in the back of your mind as an additional avenue for them to explore next month at the draft.

Still though, whether or not they go with Pead, the backfield is going to be very young and green, but with a very nice upside nonetheless.

Mendenhall’s contract is up after the 2012 season and he certainly doesn’t figure to get an extension heading into this season; at least at this point.

The Steelers don’t leave anything to chance; they cover the bases with good depth as much as possible and always have young talent waiting in the wings to step up when called upon. 2012 might finally be the time to trust the system enough to let that young talent loose and see what they can do.

 

 

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