The Steelers are Concerned about the Health of Their Running Game

The Steelers are concerned about the state of their rushing attack.

Two summers ago the Watch Tower lampooned PG Plus for covering the supposed death and resurrection of the Steelers running game – all in the span of a week.

  • This is different. 

The Steelers decision to activate Rashard Mendenhall from the PUP reveals that Steelers Nation now as legitimate cause for concern.

Mendenhall’s Surprise Activation

News that Casey Hampton and Rashard Mendenhall were coming off the PUP took Steelers Nation by surprise late Friday afternoon.

Fellow scribe and friend Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, I also write occasionally for BTSC) wrote glowingly of the move:

Mendenhall’s impressive rehabilitation time gives the Steelers a formidable ground attack, assuming there is nothing significantly wrong with Redman, who was slated to be the team’s featured running back. The ground game looks to carry with it a more prominent role this season, and this could be the kind of new-but-not-new addition could be a big pick-up.

But Neal’s reaction was the exception, not the rule. Ed Bouchette went at great pains to provide his readers with recent quotes from Steelers officials who all but indicated that Mendenhall was certain to start 2012 on the PUP.

My first reaction was “surprise” followed by “they must be desperate.”

Redman’s Injury More Serious Than Known?

Why would the Steelers be so desperate as to make a drastic move – bring a player back, any player but especially a running back, too early form an ACL, and you jeopardize his career?

  • Such a move is totally out of character for the Steelers. 

Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert don’t make personnel decisions scared.

So what could prompt them to go back on everything they’d said about their plans for Mendenhall?

Isaac Redman began training camp with pain in his groin. He didn’t say anything about it, practiced and played like normal, until he was brought to his knees in practice.

Neither Ed Bouchette nor Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette seemed overly concerned in their evening video from training camp, but in reporting that Redman was going to have an MRI, they noted that Steelers coaches wanted to rule out that Redman might have a groin injury similar to the one Jerome Bettis had.

Jerome Bettis was on course to have a record setting rushing season in 2001 when a groin injury in week 11essentially cost him the rest of the season.

At this point Alan Robinson of the Tribune Review picked up the thread, informing us that:

Running back Isaac Redman, chastised by coach Mike Tomlin for revealing he would have an MRI on his injured groin, said the test revealed Thursday exactly what the Steelers’ athletic trainers thought it would. Only he didn’t say what that was. And Tomlin wouldn’t even acknowledge that Redman had the exam.


  • On Wednesday Bouchette and Dulac report that the Steelers are concerned Redman might have a Bettis-like groin injury
  • Robinson reports on Thursday that Redman’s MRI revealed what the trainers expected it would
  • Mike Tomlin doesn’t want anyone talking about it
  • And the next day the Steelers surprise everyone and activate Mendenhall.

I hope I am wrong on this, but the logical conclusion is that Redman’s injury is somewhat serious.

[8/23 – Editor’s Note:  Dale Lolley has since revealed that Redman’s injury is hip and not groin related and that he did in fact return to practice on Tuesday. Still concern about his status is legitimate.]

The Steelers Won’t Rush Rashard Back But….

None of this means that the Steelers will rush Mendenhall back to the field before he’s ready.

Dale Lolley pointed out that in sheer practical terms, it is a lot easier to get a player into game shape in training camp than in the week-to-week practices. Matt Loede from Steelers Gab got Kevin Colbert on the record confirming Lolley’s hypothesis.

Fair enough.

  • But it’s likely that there’s also a parallel motive at work. 

Had Mendenhall began the season on the PUP list, he would have had to stay there for at least 6 weeks. Activating him now removes that restriction, at the cost of a roster spot.

Lingering injuries to James Harrison, Jason Worilds, and Stevenson Sylvester put roster spots at a premium now for the Steelers.

The Steelers won’t rush Mendenhall into the line up in September, before he’s ready, but the fact that they’ve activated him now signals that they are concerned that it might not be a case of wanting to use Mendenhall in weeks 5 or 6 but rather a case of needing to use Mendenhall then.

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