Rashard Mendenhall: Steelers' Offensive Success Rests on Running Back's Health

Ian Hanford@Ian_HanfordFeatured ColumnistSeptember 5, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 24:  Rashard Mendenhall #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers carries the ball against the St. Louis Rams during the game on December 24, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Steelers won 27-0.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Rashard Mendenhall's health entering the 2012 NFL season has been viewed in every which way, and it took another shocking turn on Monday.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Alan Robinson noted on Monday that Mendenhall "took regular reps with the starters Monday, a surprising development considering he wasn’t expected to return until at least a few weeks into the season."

The report does mention that Mendenhall's status for Sunday night's game against the Denver Broncos is still uncertain, but the door has been left open.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Ed Bouchette told WTZN-FM (listen here) that he doesn't expect Mendenhall to play, but this is still encouraging news for the Steel City.

Don't underestimate the importance of this news. Isaac Redman is a powerful north-south runner, as is Jonathan Dwyer, but Mendenhall is the most talented ball-carrier Pittsburgh has to offer.

Todd Haley's offense will ride Ben Roethlisberger's arm, but a dangerous run game is still important. It will keep the defense honest and allow Roethlisberger to create plays down the field.

Redman is solid, but he doesn't strike fear into a defense. He's going to pick up four to five yards per carry, fall forward and knock a few defenders over on the way.

Mendenhall, assuming he's at full strength, has two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt. He's not the NFL's most dynamic runner, but he's the most electric option in the Steelers stable.

Pittsburgh needs a game-changer on the ground. Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders are an exciting young trio at receiver, but their offensive success hinges on Mendenhall's return to full strength.

When defensive end Brett Keisel tells Scout.com's Jim Wexell that "he looked incredible," you know this is positive news for Pittsburgh.

Major knee surgeries can severely alter a running back's career, but Mendenhall may have retained some of his lateral movement. If he did, he will give the Steelers an element that their offense lacks otherwise.

No one expected Mendenhall to make an early-season impact. Any boost he can provide would be welcomed with open arms.

He is the difference between a good Steelers attack and an exceptionally explosive group.