By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has been ranked No. 1 on several occasions in recent years, but the group has had a penchant for allowing lengthy drives to lose games during that stretch as well.
With two former NFL defensive players of the year in strong safety Troy Polamalu and outside linebacker James Harrison returning to the lineup against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field, Steelers free safety Ryan Clark believed the club’s defense was set to turn things around.
“Actually, I think it puts more pressure on us,” Clark said. “I said Monday that there are no more excuses. We can’t run in here and say that we don’t have Troy or we don’t have James. We have everybody that we’re supposed to have now. You get a lift from just the way that they run around out there and make plays. They’ve done that for years, and we’re definitely excited about that.
“They’re two players you have to scheme for, and they’re two players that Coach LeBeau can use extensively in packages to give them opportunities to make plays. But you know they’re going to produce. They’ve done it year in and year out, and they seem to be healthy now. So, they should be productive, which would allow us to be the type of defense that we’ve been for years.”
Joining Harrison (left knee) and Polamalu (strained right calf) on the injury list, which could be a used to be injured and now full participation in practice list, are running back Rashard Mendenhall (right knee) and right offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (groin). There are still two more practice days, but it appears that all are expected to play against the Eagles.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was pleased about the additions to both sides of the line.
“It’ll be good to have (Mendenhall) back out there, but it’s always good to have everybody healthy,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t know how much we’ll use him, but it’ll be good to have him out there.
“(And) I think it’s a great boost for our defense to have Troy and James back. When they’re out there, the defense can just feed off those guys as leaders. So, it’s going to be great to see them out there, to see Troy’s hair blowing in the wind as he’s running around making tackles.”
Isaac Redman, the Steelers starter at running back for three games, was effusive in praising Mendenhall in advance of the former first-round pick’s return against the Eagles.
“He’s going to add a lot more depth to our running game,” Redman said. “We already had some with the young guys, along with me and (Jonathan) Dwyer, but when you add Rashard to that mix it definitely adds a lot more to the running game that we didn’t have the past couple of weeks.
“Rashard is quick and fast, and he has some moves. He’s gone over a thousand yards a couple times, so he’s a guy who we’ve missed in the backfield. He has to be a great addition to our group, and I’m looking forward to him being out there. It should make our running game a lot stronger.”
Eagles Practice Update
The Philadelphia Eagles had three players who did not practice Wednesday: LB Akeem Jordan (hamstring), DT Derek Landri (knee) and OG Danny Watkins (chest). But there were a large number of players who have been injured, but were full participants Wednesday.
That group included S Colt Anderson (knee), OT Demetress Bell (thumb), LB Jamar Chaney (knee), WR Riley Cooper (collarbone), LS Jon Dorenbos (ankle), OT King Dunlap (hamstring), WR Damaris Johnson (foot) and RB LeSean McCoy (knee).