In Colbert We Trust: Mendenhall, Bye Week, Contract Year & You

Now that the shock of Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall being activated from the PUP list has worn off, I have finally gotten a chance to look at this decision from several angles that include several quotes made by General Manager Kevin Colbert since it happened.

First, despite Colbert saying a short time ago that he would be surprised if Mendenhall didn\’t start the regular season on the PUP, I think he was just as surprised as the rest of us that his former first round draft pick was ready. One of the quotes provided from Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pretty much encapsulates everything we need to know about why the move was done.

“The trainers felt that he had progressed as far as he could in doing what they were doing,” Colbert said, “and the kid felt confident that he was ready to take the next step. Now, the next step is being able to practice, and where that leads to nobody knows at this point.”

All offseason Colbert gave the vibe that Mendenhall would at best be ready by week 7 after spending the first 6 weeks on the PUP list. He also seemed comfortable that if it took until week 13 to get his running back back in action, that was fine too. If a team uses the PUP to its fullest length, week 13 would have been the latest that Mendenhall could have returned.

You can also understand why Mendenhall was likely pushing to come off the PUP list being as he will be an unrestricted free agent following the 2012 season. The sooner he can get back in action, the more suitors he is likely to have next offseason if he remains both healthy and productive. Had Mendenhall started the year on the PUP list, he ran the risk of not having a starting job to come back to if Isaac Redman and the other young backs on the roster were playing well and the Steelers were winning.

While Colbert has not ruled out Mendenhall from being active for the week 1 game against the Denver Broncos, a more realistic return to the field would be following the week 4 bye. That week 5 game is against the Philadelphia Eagles and 7 weeks exactly from today. That would mean that Mendenhall would be almost 9 months removed from his surgery at that point. If he is ready for action before then great.

Just because he is off the PUP list now, does not mean we should expect him to play in any of the two remaining preseason games. I am not going to rule it out completely from happening, because heaven knows I was shocked he was even removed from the PUP list this early. Right now it is best to consider Mendenhall as a player that is about to go though a shortened, but accelerated OTA & training camp session moving forward as of now. One of the biggest aspects of a running back trying to return from this type of injury is the mental aspect of it, especially this early.

Just because Colbert might have been pushed hard by Mendenhall to remove him from the PUP list to start the season, doesn\’t mean that he gave in just to be a nice guy. If Colbert was not convinced that there was a good chance that Mendenhall could help the team prior to week 7, then he wouldn\’t have jeopardized a roster spot by removing the running back from the PUP.

The recent Redman injury aside, Colbert is usually very good about treating every personnel situation separate and so I do not believe the loss of both John Clay and David Johnson played any factor in Mendenhall being removed from PUP list on Friday. Either Mendenhall was ready to take the next step or he wasn\’t. To suggest that it was a move made out of panic or desperation is both asinine and irresponsible.

Colbert was convinced that Mendenhall was ready to start the next stage of his recovery and that he can contribute earlier rather than later. That is why the decision was made and that decision has to be trusted in. Will the move be questioned if Mendenhall is not ready by week 6 or if he reinjures the knee at some point? Sure it will, but until either of those two things happen, we must trust Colbert is doing what he feels is best for the team.

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