As the Steelers entered training camp a few weeks ago, GM Kevin Colbert told the press that Rashard Mendenhall would start the season on the PUP list. That guaranteed that Mendenhall would sit out the first six weeks of the regular season and Isaac Redman would begin to carry the load of the running game. As of Friday afternoon, that certainty vanished when the Steelers removed Mendenhall from the PUP list and activated him. Why the sudden change?
A mysterious groin injury that turned into a mysterious hip injury after an MRI this week is keeping Redman out of Sunday’s game against the Colts. The extent of the injury is unknown, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter speculates that Redman could be back to practice sometime next week. That’s not really a big deal. With two preseason games left following Sunday’s bout with the Colts, Redman has plenty of time to heal and get reps in before Week 1 – unless the injury is more serious than the Steelers are letting on.
The rest of the running back roster is a bit banged up, and perhaps that is why the Steelers were so quick to change Mendenhall’s status. Redman, Dwyer, and Clay (who is gone for the season) have either sat out or continue to sit out of practices due to injury. That leaves only second year man Baron Batch (though really he’s still a rookie) and rookie Chris Rainey. Batch turned heads last season before his ACL tear but hasn’t really made waves since returning. Chris Rainey has impressed thus far and could be an option.
The Steelers can’t keep all of these running backs when they gut the roster to 53. Perhaps that is why the Steelers feel that had to activate Mendenhall. Should Redman be out right away or within the six weeks of Mendenhall’s previously slated PUP ride, there would only be a man or two ready to go – and they may not be the best options for the Steelers. But is this move a bit premature? And what will be the long term effects of a move like this?
I for one was happy to know that we wouldn’t be seeing Mendenhall dancing his way along the line of scrimmage for a 2-yard gain (and that’s if he fell forward) for at least six weeks if not for the entire season. I’ve been smitten with Redman’s opportunity to become the featured running back for the Steelers. If Mendenhall becomes available after Week 1, will the Steelers try and shoehorn the two backs into sharing snaps during a game? I’m concerned over that kind of scenario and hope that Redman does not lose a chance to improve by losing reps over the course weekly preparation and game day. Were Mendenhall to remain on the PUP list and Redman crap the bed or become injured, then I would have been happy to see Rainey or Batch take over for a while.
Maybe I’m just panicking over what I thought was an ideal situation for a team to lose some baggage that always made the running game feel lackluster last season. Maybe Mendenhall’s return will only stoke a fire under Redman because of the potential of losing his starting job quickly were he to fall short of expectations. Maybe Mendenhall’s return would at least ensure that a seasoned back is ready to step up if Redman falls (although, something tells me offensive coordinator Todd Haley does not have any plays in the book of a pitch left that involves only dancing lateral movement and not forward progress). Who knows, maybe Mendenhall watched a lot of game film of himself while healing up and saw how much of a different back he was from the 2010 season to the 2011 season.
I just hope that the Steelers don’t pull back on Redman’s leash too quickly and dig themselves into an unproductive running game by placing Mendenhall in unnecessarily early.