By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — For those waiting for the Pittsburgh Steelers to have a full complement of running backs, you might have to go another week.
Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch and rookie Chris Rainey are expected to man the Steelers backfield again this week, while Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) and Isaac Redman (both ankles) appear to be another week away from returning.
Redman suffered a left high-ankle sprain in the third preseason game and has struggled with it all season. He sprained his right ankle at Oakland. Mendenhall has played in just two games for the Steelers (3-3) this season.
With Mendenhall and Redman on the sideline last week, Jonathan Dwyer made his first NFL start and ran for 122 yards at Cincinnati. He could start against the Washington Redskins (3-4) Sunday at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field if Mendenhall and Redman watch from the sideline.
“I’m getting used to being out there, and I have some great guys that I play with each week,” Dwyer said. “So, I’m getting comfortable with them, too. (And) I’m looking forward to getting more time with them. Our line did a great job. They really played well, and they’ve had different guys in their each week.”
Dwyer’s previous game experience was in Week 3 at Oakland, and he had a pitiful three carries for minus-1 yards. Even more egregious was his fumble that stymied the Steelers’ offense and jump-started the Raiders.
After the ensuing bye week, Dwyer was inactive for two weeks. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin informed the club of his status by writing his name, along with the words fumble and inactive on a chalkboard during a team meeting.
“I was inactive because of me, because I made a mistake,” Dwyer said Thursday. “I learned from it, and I’ve moved on. So, I’ll try not to make that mistake again. But that’s a situation that you go through and live with, and you have to try to improve from here so you can move on.
“I didn’t know I was going to be inactive until I saw my name on the board. That’s how I found out, but that’s just how we do business here. The coaches are very honest and straightforward, and I appreciate that. It makes me want to work harder to eliminate my problems, eliminate mistakes from my game.
“I didn’t feel like I was being picked on or singled out or anything like that,” Dwyer added. “It should have never happened, because I’m very disciplined about myself. You can make mistakes, but I didn’t feel like I was punished. It’s something that’s humbling, and I just need to learn from it and move on.”
Mendenhall missed the club’s opening three games while still rehabbing from offseason surgery on his right knee. He played against the Philadelphia Eagles after the bye week and tallied 68 yards on 13 carries. He also caught a 13-yard touchdown toss from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Mendenhall ran just six times for six yards at Tennessee, but suffered a left Achilles injury and has not practiced since then. Whenever he plays again, many believe that Mendenhall would return to the starting lineup as well.
“Rashard’s always been the featured guy,” Redman said. “Obviously, he’s always going to get the start, if he’s healthy, but how it goes from there … Kirby’s a great coach, but he’s probably got a tough decision from there. I think he’s done a great job so far, utilizing all the great backs that he has.
“I don’t really feel like I need a lot of carries to get going, but I do feel like I get better as the game goes on. In the fourth quarter, I believe I can wear a defense down, similar to the way Jonathan did it against the Bengals last week. In the fourth quarter, he really was able to break a lot of tackles.”
No matter who runs the football for the Steelers, they likely will be running behind center Maurkice Pouncey, who suffered a right knee injury Oct. 11 at Tennessee. Pouncey has been a full participant in practice Wednesday and Thursday and should play against the Redskins.
“Injuries happen, so sometimes you just have to sit back and accept it,” Pouncey said. “I don’t want to be on the sideline, but you can’t do anything about it. And you don’t want to rush back too early, so I’d miss a couple games now to be healthy later in the season, because nothing is worse than missing playoff games and the Super Bowl like I’ve already done in my career.
“But I’m feeling pretty good right now. I’m going to take every rep and practice fully this week and see how it feels after that, but I feel pretty good right now. I’m ready to play. I had 12 days off, so I feel good. And I feel like I’ll be ready to play Sunday against the Redskins. It’s the coaches’ decision, but I know that I’m ready to go. We’ve been taping the knee, which works better than a brace.”
Along with Pouncey, ILB Jason Worilds and Dwyer went through a full practice Thursday. Worilds (illness) and Dwyer (personal) did not practice Wednesday. … OT Marcus Gilbert (ankle), SS Troy Polamalu (right calf) LB Brandon Johnson (knee) and Mendenhall all missed Thursday’s practice. … PK Shaun Suisham (left ankle) and Redman were limited.
“It’s been tough for me to come back, because I’ve had these two ankle problems,” Redman said. “But the throwback uniforms are this week? That might rush me back.”
Redman was the model when the Steelers re-introduced their 1934 bumble-bee style throwback uniforms this year. They will wear the odd-looking attire against the Redskins and also Nov. 18 against the Baltimore Ravens.