Mendenhall is coming off a 2011 season that ended early due to injury, and while his rehab has gone well, the Steelers running back might not be ready for the season-opener against the Denver Broncos, per CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora via Twitter.
AP listed as questionable - could see limited action Sun. Mendenhall doubtful as expected. Carlos Dunlap misses practices again for Bengals.
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) September 7, 2012
The injury mentioned above happened about eight months ago when Mendenhall tore his ACL, which is an alarming injury for any player in the NFL, let alone a running back. On top of that, Mendenhall is coming off a down year that saw him fail to hit the 1,000-yard mark in 15 games.
With that, the future of Mendenhall in the NFL is nowhere near a certainty. If they were to sign him to an extension, the Steelers will be relying on hope alone that Mendenhall is healthy and will be the running back he once was moving forward.
However, the Steelers would be wise to hold off on any extension talks until Mendenhall actually takes the field again. That means the 2012 season will be one that Mendenhall uses to show that there will be no lasting effects from his injury.
How well can Mendenhall explode off that knee to break through opposing defensive lines in order to hit his top speed? There's no doubt that question can't be answered at this time, and that is a pretty important question to ask of a back seeking a long-term extension.
Besides the health concerns for the 25-year-old, the Steelers have a solid group of running backs already, led by Isaac Redman when Mendenhall is on the bench.
Redman proved to be a reliable back in 2011 as he ran for 479 yards on 110 carries, averaging 4.4 yards per touch.
In their history, the Steelers have never had problems developing running backs. They have a long history of having success out of their backfield no matter who is getting the ball.
Depending on that history of great backs, the Steelers would be foolish to commit a lot of money to a risky proposition like Mendenhall when they can replace him without a problem. That would open the door for Pittsburgh to spend Mendenhall's extension money elsewhere.
Mendenhall has been a solid back for Pittsburgh, but where there is a back like Mendenhall, the Steelers are always developing another one just like him who is capable of carrying the load.
At the very least, Pittsburgh should wait until the end of the 2012 campaign to see if Mendenhall can return to the form we saw during the 2009 and 2010 seasons.