By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — After a one-week absence due to a slight hamstring injury, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall appears to be ready to resume his role as the club’s starter.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was more non-committal when asked about Mendenhall’s status as it relates to second-year players Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. Redman started for Mendenhall last week against Tennessee, and Dwyer ran for 107 yards in a backup role.
“We expect (Mendenhall) to participate this week, and we will see where that participation leads us,” Tomlin said. “(And) we will let his level of health and participation in the work week dictate (who starts).
Redman opened the game with the Titans and ran hard 15 times for 49 yards, while Dwyer — active for just the second time in his career — ripped off a 76-yard run and tallied 107 yards on 11 carries. Some believe the Steelers will stick with Redman and Dwyer, who could become the first Steelers running back since Willie Parker in 2008 to have consecutive 100-yard games, but Redman debunked that theory.
“I’m just here to help the team win, and I don’t look at it like I earned another start or anything like that,” Redman said. “Rashard is our starter, and he’s back this week. It’s his job, and the offensive line looks like they’re hitting on all cylinders. So, I expect Rashard to get all the big yardage this week.
“With Mewelde still out, I’ll probably do the majority of the third downs and probably spell Rashard when he needs a breather. Maybe I’ll even get a series, but Rashard most definitely is the starter. He’s healthy. His body is feeling good, and he’s ready to go. And Dwyer, every time he gets in a game he makes big plays.”
Mendenhall, the Steelers’ first-round pick in 2008, ran for 2,381 yards and 20 touchdowns the past two seasons. However, he hasn’t been that affective through four games, as he has just 173 yards and a 3.0-yard average per carry this year. So, it might be prudent to keep Mendenhall under wraps to give him another week off and take a closer look at the Redman-Dwyer combination.
“I think you can get a good look at it when you’re watching from the sideline, but more when you’re watching other runners and not the guys on your team that you know so much about,” Mendenhall said. “(But) I feel pretty good.
“So, I’m going to give it a go out there in practice this week, and we’ll see how I feel by the end of it. You just have to rest whenever you get the chance and rehab it, but this wasn’t a bad hamstring injury for me. So, I’ll be all right.”
Much has been made about Mendenhall’s lack of production so far, but in just his first game this season Dwyer had a huge hole to run through Sunday for his 76-yard jaunt. Mendenhall approved, but wished he could have scored.
“It’s exciting to see that because it means that we’re getting better,” Mendenhall said. “It’s still early in the season, so when you see that it means we’re improving all the time. And it gives me something to look forward to.
“Yeah, I wanted him to score, but I really didn’t need to get on him about not scoring, because everybody else took care of that. But he was rolling. Dwyer’s a good runner, so he’ll take it in when he gets another chance.”
Mendenhall added that he’ll continue to work hard to find holes to run through.
“As a running back, you have reads and you have plays, and you still have to pick and find holes to run through,” Mendenhall said. “When it works, everybody loves it, but when it doesn’t then everybody’s mad. So, we just try to keep things in perspective and keep working hard, and everything will be fine.”
Tomlin was more effusive in praising Redman and Dwyer.
“I thought (Redman) did a nice job, but it’s kind of what we expected,” Tomlin said. “Isaac’s not an unknown commodity in terms of what he’s capable of with the ball in his hands, as a blitz pick-up guy and all the things that encompass being a running back for us. So we were pleased, but not surprised.”
Dwyer wasn’t a pleasant surprise, either.
“Since Jonathan has been here, I think he has always made it very evident that running the football is something that he does well,” Tomlin added. “But we are more pleased with some of the other things that he did in the game and other things that come with being a professional running back.
“He made two tackles on kick coverage units. He did a nice job there. He’s growing in all areas, and that’s what’s going to be required for him to continue to move forward and retain his helmet as some injured guys get healthy.”
Dwyer is well aware of his responsibilities on special teams.
“I had a nice game running the ball, but it’s going to be just as important for me to play well on special teams when I get the chance,” Dwyer said. “It’s all about attitude. That’s what Coach tells us. You have to run down the field and be relentless. Don’t let the opponent have any advantage over you. So, it’s all a mindset. You have to work hard to make a play, and that’s what I tried to do.”
Dwyer played on both kickoff and punt coverage. He was back near Antonio Brown on punts and in the middle of the field on kickoffs.