Rashard Mendenhall has been fully practicing this week but there is still no official word on when he will return to the lineup. If I’m Mike Tomlin, there’s no way I even consider letting Mendenhall back into the active lineup at least until after the bye week. Whether or not that turns out to be the case is anybody’s guess but the good news is that he’s recovering nicely and will be available at some point sooner rather than later.
His surgery was this past January, a couple weeks after he tore his ACL against Cleveland. Going by normal recovery times, 9 months would put him back in the lineup in October. The Steelers bye week this year is in week 4; don’t you just hate those early byes? If he sits out of gameday action until then, he could come back October 7th when the Eagles come to Pittsburgh.
With the way that Jonathan Dwyer has been running in preseason and last week against the Broncos, and the continued recovery of Isaac Redman from ankle and hip injuries, there’s no reason to bring back #34 before then. Honestly even if those two weren’t able to go, I’d still rather not bring him back any sooner.
Practicing is one thing, gameday is another. Regardless of the new CBA rules which limit the amount of padded practices, NFL players know how to practice with a teammate who’s coming off serious surgery. Coaches normally put a red jersey on a player who’s not 100%, to signal to others that he’s not to be hit. Mendenhall hasn’t had that on in weeks now and has been participating fully with his teammates. Even still, after being off the entire offseason, missing training camp and preseason, he’s still getting back into football shape. If you consider that from the start of the year to the end of the bye week is a month, adding in also that he’s been rehabbing and staying in shape this offseason, then it looks good for a return against Philadelphia.
We’ve not heard of any setbacks in his recovery, and Tomlin hasn’t mentioned anything about him in a negative manner about knee swelling or limited mobility either. Given the way Pittsburgh likes to keep injuries under wraps though, we shouldn’t expect anything different.
So far this year, Jonathan Dwyer is making a statement to the coaches about what he’s capable of. In the preseason he had 28 carries for 147 yds in limited action,and last week in the opener he was the leading rusher with 9 carries for 43 yds and 1 TD. That was also splitting time with Isaac Redman, but clearly last week Dwyer was the better performer of the two.
He’s earned the praise of Mike Tomlin who talked about Dwyer getting an increased workload going foward this year. With Redman still not 100%, Dwyer could likely still see the lions share of the carries against the New York Jets this Sunday.
Chris Rainey is the teams primary return man on kickoffs right now (Antonio Brown was returning punts last weekend), but he did have 2 attempts against Denver. That workload should increase as he gets more experienced and the Steelers offensive line hopefully gets healthy.
Between Redman, Dwyer, and Rainey the Steelers need to continue to make do without Mendenhall for the next couple of weeks at least. Every chance that he gets to rest and rehab that knee gives him a better opportunity to have a productive season when he returns.