Rashard Mendenhall has been ahead of the curve recently in his recovery following a torn ACL. Earlier today, Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin announced at the team’s press conference that there is a chance that Mendenhall could be back for the Steelers’ regular season opener at Denver.
Mendenhall, injured in the 2011 regular season finale against Cleveland, came off of the PUP list on August 17th but did not appear in any of the Steelers’ preseason games. Mendenhall took snaps with the first-team offense Monday for the first time since his return to the active roster, indicating that the team might want him to get up to game speed quicker than expected. Fellow running back Isaac Redman is nursing an ankle injury, meaning that the door is open for Mendenhall to get the opening day start. If the team deems neither of them healthy enough to start, expect third-stringer Jonathan Dwyer to get most of the carries against Denver.
An eight-month recovery following a torn ACL is on the shorter end of rehabilitation, but that places Mendenhall on a similar timetable as Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who tore his ACL on last Christmas Eve and is listed as a game-time decision for the season opener.
Getting Mendenhall back this early in the season would be a huge boon for the Steelers. Although he’s not a fantastic runner, Mendenhall is efficient and easily the most talented running back on the Pittsburgh roster. At the very least, expect to see Mendenhall get minimal work in order to return to game speed. That could be enough to make an impact against a Broncos defense that ranked 22nd in the NFL last season. After such a gruesome injury, Steelers fans should be happy to see their top running back close to a full recovery.