Insisting he feels well with no setbacks after a full week of practice, running back Rashard Mendenhall is set to return for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Because of an Achilles injury, Mendenhall has missed all four games of a winning streak that the Steelers (6-3) carry into their Sunday showdown with the Baltimore Ravens (7-2).
Mendenhall had not been through a full practice in more than a month, but made it through complete workouts Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. He is officially listed as probable.
“He looks like he’s back to his old form,” running back Isaac Redman said. “He’s making all the cuts, it looks like he has his burst. So he looks good.”
With former 1,200-yard rusher Mendenhall back, the Steelers have to decide how to split carries between he, Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. Redman and Dwyer each had 100-yard rushing games while Mendenhall was out.
“All three of us are going to play,” Redman said. “And we’re just going to keep it rolling throughout the game and try to keep a fresh running back in there at all times. We’re going to try to pound them.”
With Mendenhall unavailable to play the first three games of the season because of his recovery from a torn ACL sustained Jan. 1, the Steelers running game struggled. Pittsburgh averaged 65 rushing yards per game in starting 1-2.
Since Mendenhall returned with a 68-yard performance in a win over Philadelphia Oct. 7 — to that point, the most yards by a Pittsburgh back this season — the Steelers have improved their NFL ranking in rushing yards from 31st to 20th.
After being deactivated for the two previous games, Dwyer had consecutive 100-yard efforts in victories over Cincinnati and Washington. Then Redman had 147 rushing yards in a 24-20 win at the defending Super Bowl-champion Giants Nov. 4.
“We were able to get those 100-yard games and able to kind of pound teams out,” Redman said, “and kind of make them quit in the fourth quarter.”
After a mediocre, Dwyer-led, 95-yard rushing performance in a lackluster 16-13 overtime win over the last-place Kansas City Chiefs on Monday, the Steelers will have the choice of three feature backs when first place is on the line Sunday.
“We’re ready, and we have all three guys — the first time all three of us are going to suit up at the same time,” Redman said. “So we’re really looking forward to this running game.”
Whether on marching orders from the coaching staff or simply because even they aren’t aware of coordinator Todd Haley’s intentions, the backs insist they don’t know the plan for sharing carries. Counting fullback Will Johnson, rookie speedster Chris Rainey and special teams stalwart Baron Batch, it’s likely the Steelers will dress six running backs against the Ravens.