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Patience will be key with injured Steelers returning to lineup

Mike Tomlin had his weekly press conference on Tuesday, and among the hot topics was the status of injured players James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, and Rashard Mendenhall. According to Tomlin each practiced on Monday and the team will see how the players do throughout the week before making a final decision on their playing status.

He was optimistic though about the possibility of getting his team back to full strength, or at least closer than they have been all year so far.  “Based on what I am looking at on how we worked yesterday I think that is a safe assessment,” said Tomlin when asked if they will play Sunday. “We will watch these guys as we proceed throughout the week. All guys have performed well and were able to get through practice and we’re optimistic that they’re going to be full participants.”

While we’re all excited to see some of the biggest names on the team getting back into action, it would unwise to think that everything is going to be hunky dory and the defense we’ve come to know and love immediately turn back into a power house.

Todd Haley spoke earlier this week about not giving Mendenhall a full workload right out of the gate. Putting the ground game completely in his hands on Sunday afternoon against the Eagles is both unnecessary and dangerous.

Both Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer will likely be active for the game this week regardless of whether Mendenhall plays or not. Even if Rashard does start, Haley will continue the tradition of rotating in one or both of his other ball carriers, likely progressing the amount of snaps they give #34 each week as he gets back into football shape. The ground game is hardly anything to write home about these days, as the team is tied for 31st in the league through 4 weeks; only the Raiders have a worse ground game.

Getting Mendenhall back will be a boost to the offense but the blocking of the offensive line must improve if Mendenhall is going to have any success this weekend and in the future. Like we’ve been saying all along, the poor performance on the ground is not the sole fault of either Dwyer or Redman; the line shares as much blame as any of the ball carriers.

James Harrison hasn’t played since last season and barely practiced all offseason, training camp, or preseason while rehabbing his knee. Even though he practiced on Monday, the real test will be on Wednesday-Friday this week as he sees how that knee responds to the rigors of working out with the team. As long as there are no swelling or other setbacks he should be ready to go, again in limited action.

Dick Lebeau has been using a combination of players in Harrison’s absence, with limited results; Jason Worilds in his 3rd year now and Chris Carter in his 2nd. Worilds also worked out very little this offseason and training camp as he rehabbed his injured wrist. Neither player has been spectacular or even consistent though, so getting Harrison back in any manner is a boost not only in performance but emotion. Jason Worilds has 1 sack and 4 tackles so far, while Carter has 5 total tackles and 1 pass defensed.

While Harrison is always in phenomenal shape, I’m sure he’d admit he’s not back to being in full on football shape. We should expect a regular rotation between all three, or at least two, while Harrison gets his sea legs back. His presence alone though will be a huge emotional lift for the team and the fans.

Troy Polamalu is also progressing well and as long as he is able to practice this week, he should start back in his familiar spot beside Ryan Clark.

Clearly getting Troy back is huge but secondary coach Carnell Lake will have to be careful with him. Polamalu always plays with reckless abandon, seemingly foregoing his own well-being to make the play. His style involved a lot of movement both pre snap and post snap; cutting, jumping, accelerating, and stopping quickly. That type of jerky movement when you’re coming off a calf injury can be tricky to deal with. I would still expect Mundy to get some reps while Troy gets back into the lineup. Even though he hasn’t missed as much time as the other two, the importance of him not suffering any setbacks is more than obvious.

I’m just as pumped as anyone at finally getting to see a full starting 22 out on the field for the Steelers; we just have to be realistic in our expectations of their play, especially in the next few weeks.

 

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