By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — This is the third straight season that Rashard Mendenhall has been the Pittsburgh Steelers’ featured running back, but after a rough start has netted him just 173 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 58 carries (3.0 per run) some believe the club should switch to power back Isaac Redman.
And this would appear to be the perfect week, as Mendenhall is suffering from a strained right hamstring that has limited him in practice and backup Mewelde Moore has a left ankle sprain that has forced him to wear a boot and possibly miss the game with the Tennessee Titans Sunday at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field.
“We’ve got to win these AFC games,” Redman said. “There’s no doubt about it. We’ve got to play a lot better and bounce back this week. We have a lot of injuries, but at each of those positions the next guy has to step up and get the job done. That’s certainly the case as far as I’m concerned.
“But I really don’t know what the coaches are thinking about that. It all depends on how Rashard is doing, so that’s pretty much all the information I have on it. We’ll see. It should mean that I get more carries with Mewelde being out for sure, but I’ll be ready no matter what. I was born ready.”
And no matter what some thought about his playing ability last season, Redman appears to be more than capable this year. He ran for 247 yards (4.8 average) last season, and he should surpass that halfway through this season with 107 yards (4.9 average) and one 20-yard touchdown burst.
“I don’t think anybody in this building is surprised at how well Isaac has played this year, but I think we all felt he could do the job from the minute he got here,” Mendenhall said. “He’s a big, strong back, and we’re glad to have him.
“For me, I just take every day as it comes, and every game the same way. And as long as I feel like I’m putting my best foot forward I feel like I’m doing all I can do. So, there really isn’t anything to be frustrated about this year.”
Mendenhall was injured on his three-yard touchdown run with 7:02 remaining in the third quarter at Houston. He did not return to the game and didn’t believe it would be prudent to give it a try because he could have been injured worse.
Mendenhall ran for 1,273 yards and 13 touchdowns last season after 1,108 yards and seven scores in 2009. But he had 3.9 yards per carry last year.
Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said the only thing that would keep Mendenhall from playing this week is if his hamstring injury does not allow him to shift gears with a burst of speed. Regardless of Mendenhall’s status, Redman should get extensive work, Arians noted, and the rest should help Mendenhall.
Offensive Line Shakeup
When the Steelers were successful running the football against the Houston Texans last week they primarily did it by going to the right side with Ramon Foster at guard and Marcus Gilbert at the tackle spot.
So, those two guys will stay there for the time being. Since Doug Legursky appears to be healthy again after missing last week with a left shoulder injury, he could replace Chris Kemoeatu at left guard. Kemoeatu’s left knee has been acting up, and he hasn’t practiced yet this week. Even if he can play, Legursky will be his backup and Foster will start at right guard.
Also, it looks like Max Starks could start at left tackle. He split first-team reps with Jonathan Scott Thursday at practice and actually got more reps. Starks reportedly weighed more than 400 pounds before camp began, but he is at 352 now. He played at about 340 before the injury last season.
“It felt pretty good today after (Wednesday) when my head was swimming,” Starks said. “I studied the playbook for the first time in a long while, so it was a long day for me. But I feel good, and I’ll be ready to go if they need me.”
Arians believed that with three good practice days, it would be no problem for Starks to start at left tackle.
“It would be different if he was learning a new offense,” Arians said. “He came in and picked it right back up, and he’s in pretty good shape. So, we’ll see where we’ll go at the end of this week.”
Status Quo In Secondary
It looks like cornerback Bryant McFadden has lost his starting job even though he is more healthy than he’s been all year. According to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the Steelers secondary should remain the same with William Gay opposite Ike Taylor at cornerback, and Keenan Lewis playing there with Gay moving to the slot on passing downs.
McFadden’s playing status is still up in the air. He was surprised when asked about possibly losing his starting job, but he likely will talk with the coaches later this week to discuss his availability this week and for the future.
Brett Keisel Returns
Another Steelers starter who could miss the game against the Titans is left defensive end Aaron Smith, who has a right mid-foot sprain and has been wearing a boot all week. If Smith can’t play, third-year player Ziggy Hood would step into the starting role after playing the past two weeks for Brett Keisel.
Keisel, who is expected to return to his starting spot at right defensive end, had a PCL sprain in his right knee. But he practiced both Wednesday and Thursday.
“It felt really good, and it’s a step in the right direction,” Keisel said. “It’s great to be back out there after watching a few games, so I’m excited. (And) I’m going to play. I think I’m going to play, (because) there wasn’t anything that indicated that I won’t be able to play Sunday. So, I’m going to play.
“It’s just a matter of going out and doing football movements. I’m trying to do it at full speed. You can’t get game speed out here, obviously, but I’m just trying to push it as hard as I can. And it felt really good. … It was tough to sit on the sideline and watch them run the ball the way they did.
“But, sometimes, these things happen. We’ve all got to get better, and we’ve all got to do our job better. (The) guys kept coming up to me to ask me what was going on, but it was just a culmination of a lot of things, guys tackling poorly and getting out of their gaps. But all that can be corrected.”
Keisel acknowledged that opponents have been successful with zone-blocking schemes against them, and until the Steelers stop it the opposition likely will continue to use that style to its advantage.
Note: The Steelers practiced in pads Wednesday and Thursday, using up their only time to do that this season, according to the new CBA.