Rashard Mendenhall: Realistic Expectations for Steelers RB in Season Debut

Mike HoagCorrespondent IIOctober 5, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 08: Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates with teammate Rashard Mendenhall #34 after scoring on a 79 yard touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns during the game on December 8, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall hasn’t taken a snap yet in 2012, but he will make his season debut on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Mendenhall, listed as probable for Sunday, will likely play sparingly in order to test the strength of his surgically repaired ACL that he tore in Week 17 of the 2011-12 season.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reported the probable status of Mendenhall and several other key Steelers who have been injured via Twitter on Friday.

Rashard Mendenhall, Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, Marcus Gilbert probable for Steelers.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 5, 2012

In Mendenhall's absence, the Steelers' run game has been atrocious. They’ve averaged just 2.6 yards per carry by the combined numbers of Isaac Redman and Johnathon Dwyer.

Dwyer and Redman may be just one symptom of the problem of running the football in Pittsburgh.

Injuries and changes along the offensive line have hampered the unit’s ability to move defenders and create holes for the downhill running styles of both Dwyer and Redman.

Can Mendenhall get healthy and revitalize the team’s running game this week? His unique combination of size, speed and toughness could be just what the team needs to get back to playing hard-nosed Pittsburgh Steelers football.

Offensive lineman Doug Legursky seems to think so.

“‘Not that the other two backs haven't done a good job because they have, but Rashard's explosion, his speed and his experience will really just add to it and make us that much better,’ Legursky said, according to Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. ‘He is one of those guys who is able to press the hole and he is also just speed around the edge where nobody is going to catch him.’”

Despite the sense of relief coming in Pittsburgh with Mendenhall’s return, running against the Philadelphia Eagles has posed a problem for opponents thus far in 2012.

Through four weeks, the Eagles are allowing just 91.5 yards per game on the ground while the Steelers have essentially relied solely on quarterback Ben Roetlisberger due to their inept 2.6 yard average on the ground.

You should temper expectations for Mendenhall and the effect he will have on the Steelers’ game plan until he is able get a start or two of action under his belt.

The struggles of the Steelers' offensive line and the Eagles’ tough front seven will also be inhibiting factors for the running back in his debut on Sunday.


Mike Hoag Jr. is a Breaking News Team writer with Bleacher Report and also covers the Cleveland Browns and the NFL for the site.