EAST RUTHERFORD NJ - AUGUST 21: Rashard Mendenhall #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes against the New York Giants during their preseason game at New Meadowlands Stadium on August 21 2010 in East Rutherford New Jersey. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
And just like that, RB Rashard Mendenhall is apparently healthy enough to play.
Mendenhall went down awkwardly when cutting to the outside in last season's Week 17 win over the Cleveland Browns. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin immediately assumed the worst - a torn ACL would not only keep him out of what, at that point in the game, appeared to be a road playoff game against Denver, but probably into the 2012 season as well.
He was wrong about the second part.
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.
Mendenhall, a 2008 first-round draft pick, nearly had his third consecutive 1,000 yard season, falling to 928 on 228 carries. That was 96 fewer carries than he had the previous season, and improved his yards-per-carry from 3.9 to 4.1 The emergence of Redman and a lesser focus on the running game took carries but Mendenhall was still effective for much of the year.
A healthy return and hopefully injury-free season gives the Steelers a potent one-two punch in the backfield. New offensive coordinator Todd Haley's use of a fullback as well as multiple running back formations could lead to one of the better backfields the Steelers have shown in many years.
Running back was a position of depth going into this preseason, but injuries reduced that depth a bit. Getting Mendenhall, the most talented of all of them, back before the season when it was feared he may be placed on the regular season PUP list (which would require him to sit the first six games) is a blessing indeed.