On The Steelers: Mendenhall returns to mix


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It was broke, and the Steelers fixed it, and they beat the Tennessee Titans Sunday, 38-17. Now, they will tinker some more.

Rashard Mendenhall, who missed the game Sunday with a hamstring injury after a slow first four games, will return to start at halfback against Jacksonville. Rookie Marcus Gilbert, who left the Tennessee game in the second quarter after his left shoulder was re-injured, will not start.

There could be more moves on an offense that recently came alive, based on how a few injured players react over the next few days. But the best Jonathan Dwyer will do is suit up as the No. 3 halfback, even though he became their first 100-yard rusher this season, and if Mewelde Moore's ankle gets any better over the next few days, Dwyer could return to his familiar role Sunday wearing street clothes.

As for the rest of the offensive line, it probably will be the same one that protected quarterback Ben Roethlisberger better than it has all season, and paved the way for the most productive running game of the season.

They did it with old faces in "new" places -- Max Starks at left tackle, Doug Legursky at left guard and Ramon Foster at right guard. Jonathan Scott, who lost his starting left tackle job to Starks, replaced injured Gilbert at right tackle in the second quarter against the Titans and will start there again Sunday. Starting left guard Chris Kemoeatu did not practice again Thursday, so unless he can go today, Legursky will make his second consecutive start at left guard to go with his three starts at right guard, not counting the couple of times he jumped in at center when Maurkice Pouncey left games with injuries.

Got all that?

"It was a better game, it wasn't our best game we're capable of," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said of his transformer line. "I think our numbers were good but they can be better.

"We dress seven guys, you can book all seven playing every week, someone's going down. It's a quality group. I think they get beat up a bit. Baltimore, Houston, Indianapolis are not easy to play as an offensive line. They're always a punching bag, they like it."

Sunday will feature the sixth offensive line combination to start in their six games, so continuity has been thrown out the window somewhat. Still, it worked last week and there will be relative continuity since Scott is the only new starter this week and he did play more than two quarters against the Titans.

Arians blamed the noise on the road for the line's problems early this season and those linemen as well as Roethlisberger have talked about the "communication" problems they have on the road. Does it mean they will play well at home and not so well in enemy stadiums?

"I don't know man, games are up and down," Pouncey said. "The teams we played before had real good schemes against us and went out and played real good ball and kind of beat us on a lot of different things.

"Most times when we were playing good, especially last week, we had a really good running game going and got things going offensively."

Mendenhall still the man

Mendenhall practiced again Thursday and Arians left little doubt that he will return to start Sunday at halfback.

"Oh, Rashard; Rashard's the man. He's ready to go and everything will be back to normal except for Mewelde, he'll probably still not be able to make it but we'll wait and see until game time. He made great progress last week on that ankle the last two days. He's a vet who wouldn't need a lot of practice time."

Isaac Redman started and ran 15 times for 49 yards against the Titans. He could find himself with more carries as a backup than usual because they do not want to overdo it with Mendenhall, who has 58 carries for 173 yards.

"His average was the same as Rashard last week," Arians said of Mendenhall. "He made some really nice runs but the numbers were the same. We feel very confident in Red[man] when he's in there but it all depends on Rashard. We don't want to get him re-injured so it won't be an overload situation."

Quick hits

• The Steelers eased up a bit on Roethlisberger in practice, with Charlie Batch taking more snaps. Roethlisberger played against the Titans wearing a protective shoe on his sprained left foot. He said he would modify the shoe more this week and hoped it would be the last time he had to wear it.

"He's getting better, he's still not 100 percent but he's a lot better," Arians said of Roethlisberger. "No sense tweaking it."

• Nose tackle Casey Hampton (shoulder) did not practice again and it appears Chris Hoke will make his second consecutive start. Same with defensive end Aaron Smith (foot) with Ziggy Hood replacing him again. Safety Ryan Clark (quad) returned for a full practice after he was limited Wednesday. Jason Worilds (quad) returned for a limited practice for the first time in two weeks. Cornerback Cortez Allen (ankle) was limited in practice for the second day in a row.

• Quarterback Byron Leftwich had surgery Wednesday on his left foot to remove some loose cartilage. He said he might as well have it done now while he's on injured reserve with his broken left arm. He had the same surgery six years ago and said this will not set him back for next season.

• Clark said the NFL did not fine him for his personal foul Sunday when he hit a Titans player out of bounds after the play was wrongly allowed to continue even though a false-start penalty was called on Tennessee.


For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.


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