By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Even though Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin did not rule out Rashard Mendenhall from playing against the Denver Broncos Sunday night, it’s hard to believe that the fifth-year running back would be active.
Mendenhall needed surgery to repair the knee damage he suffered eight months ago in the playoff loss at Denver, and some believe he won’t play for several more weeks. But don’t tell that to Mendenhall.
“No, I’m not surprised that I’ve been able to do this,” Mendenhall said. “I’ve worked very hard to come back after the surgery, and I feel pretty good. So, I’m not surprised at all. I haven’t had a sleeve on this whole time (for protection on the knee), and I still feel pretty comfortable out there.
“So, we’ll see how things go. I feel pretty good about my speed and everything, but I’m just taking it one day at a time. My focus is just day-to-day, so I’m not worried about rushing back too soon or anything else. It was day-to-day Monday, and it’s day-to-day today (Wednesday).”
If Mendenhall can’t play, or at the very least is limited, third-year players Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, second-year pro Baron Batch and even rookie Chris Rainey could split time.
“Dwyer’s working at it, and so is Isaac Redman … he’s coming back from an injury,” Tomlin said. “(The starter) is something that we’ll determine later in the week.”
Tomlin believed that Dwyer has continued to mature, as he just turned 23.
“There’s a certain level of growth and maturity from a personal standpoint,” Tomlin said. “The more obvious observation is that he is in better physical condition than he has been in the past.”
Dwyer said he has continued to work hard to be in the best physical shape and as well-prepared as he’s been since arriving from Georgia Tech in the sixth round in 2010.
“I’m getting ready mentally and physically for this game, but I haven’t heard anything about playing time,” Dwyer said. “Isaac is starting to make his way back, so we have an exciting group with me, Ike, Rainey and Batch. And a lot of people are going to have a tough time preparing for us.
“I just have to go out there every day and make plays, whether it’s in practice or a game, I have to make sure the coaches and my teammates trust me that I can do the job when they call my number. So, that’s the way I’m approaching things right now.”
Redman battled a groin and hip problem earlier in training camp, but he suffered an ankle injury in the Buffalo game that really has hampered him. This week, however, Redman noted that he’s felt pretty good lately, and that’s no small feat considering his rough preseason.
“An ankle injury, it’s something that can nag for most of the year, maybe half the year, but I’m getting better every day,” Redman said. “And I feel really good right now. I have a little soreness in my ankle.
“But I’ve been doing a lot of treatment. And It’s feeling better all the time. So, I’m not worried about it. I feel like there’s nothing that can hold me back. I’m going to be ready to play. Unless something changes, I feel pretty good.”
Redman ran pretty well in practice and didn’t appear to limp, but his right ankle is slightly swollen. Still, he has such good memories from the last game in Denver, at least as far as his performance was concerned. Redman had 121 yards on 17 carries, but the Steelers lost 29-23 in overtime.
“I had a pretty good game, but it all got taken away by the loss,” Redman said. “I performed OK, but at the end of the day we went home and were not playing the next week. So, we just want to go out there and get a win to begin this season. This is just another regular-season game for us.
“And we want to win to start off on a good note. The whole world is watching, so we have to go out there and perform. It’s prime time, against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. We’re on their home field, so we need to play well to get this season started the right way.”
Mendenhall and Redman were full participants in practice Wednesday.