Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall is close to returning from the Achilles injury that he suffered back in Week 6 against the Tennessee Titans. Will he be ready for the game Monday night against the Kansas City Chiefs? It\’s hard to say this early on in the week, but when he is ready, he will be the starter, according to running backs coach Kirby Wilson.
Wilson told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Wednesday, “Rashard has always been our lead dog and our top runner.”
The Steelers currently have a problem that most teams would envy and that is that they have three running backs that can all get the job done when their number is called. While both Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman have played extremely well over the course of the last three weeks, Wilson made sure to tell the paper what Mendenhall brings to the running game that the other two do not.
“Rashard is the complete package — power, speed, explosiveness,” Wilson told the paper. “He is the guy who can take a 10-yard run and make people miss and get 20 more. We think Jonathan has things that he is great at. Isaac has some things that he is great at. But Rashard is the complete package. Rashard has proved that he can do it over the long haul.”
While Wilson seems to have the pecking order of the running backs established in his mind when all three of them are back healthy again, he made it clear that the running back that is producing will be the one that gets the ball. This is exactly what head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday during his press conference.
“Whoever’s being productive when healthy is going to get the totes,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “I really think it’s that simple. I’m not going to make it any more complex than it has to be.”
“At times this season we’ve had a running back by committee approach because none of them had been overly effective at that time. When someone’s effective, they’ll get the ball.”
When Mendenhall made his season debut against the Philadelphia Eagles back in Week 5, he brought to life a dormant running game with a 5.2 yards per average performance. Even though he only had 13 carries in the game for 68 yards, he added another 33 yards on 3 receptions and was visible the best Steelers running back on the field that day.
Both Dwyer and Redman have done an excellent job since Mendenhall went down with his Achilles strain as the Steelers have rushed for over 100 yards in the last three games. While their performances were certainly good, it appears that they both will have to again play second and third fiddle to Mendenhall.
With all of that said, if Mendenhall doesn\’t pick up where the other two left off, it sounds like the coaches are not afraid to try the next man up, even if they might not be considered the complete package that Mendenhall is.
In a nutshell, I would expect a running back by committee approach moving forward. Redman had 26 carries in the win Sunday over the New York Giants and I doubt a single Steelers running back will have that many carries in a game for the rest of the season.