The Steelers activated two more veterans off the physically-unable-to-perform list (PUP) Friday, but it could be quite some time before anyone sees Rashard Mendenhall in a game.
He and nose tackle Casey Hampton each had surgery to repair torn ACLs in January, and both were activated, joining another player who had the surgery in January, offensive tackle Max Starks, on the active roster this week.
The move with Mendenhall came as a surprise because as recently as last week, general manager Kevin Colbert said he thought he would open the season on the PUP. Obviously, things changed.
"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."
Anyone on the Reserve/PUP list to start the regular season cannot practice or play for the first six weeks of the season. After that, the team has three weeks to decide if it wants to put him on the 53-man roster or put him on injured reserve the rest of the season.
Players on PUP can work out, but Mendenhall and the Steelers felt it was time for him to take the next step rather than wait for him to take it six weeks into the regular season. It is unlikely he will be ready to play in September, but, by doing this, he could be ready to play much sooner than if he had to open on PUP.
"If you go on PUP, you're out for six weeks, minimum," Colbert explained. "You can still only continue that same work. So, he felt he was beyond that, the trainers felt he was beyond that, so it was time to take that next step.
"Now whether he plays in those first six weeks we don't know, but, obviously, we feel there's a chance that could happen. Be it Week 5 or Week 6, that could be a difference."
Colbert said he, too, was surprised by Mendenhall's progress. He said earlier he felt Hampton would be ready, but with all the speed and cutting required of a running back it would take Mendenhall longer.
"Really, he has progressed. He's always been doing well, but, honestly, I am surprised that all three of them with ACL [surgeries] are practicing.
"We will know more once he starts this. Practicing and doing football work with his teammates, he'll have a better idea where he is, and we'll have a better idea where he is."
Mendenhall's injury occurred in the final regular-season game Jan. 1 at Cleveland, and Hampton's came in the playoff loss Jan. 8 at Denver.
The move comes after several injuries have left the Steelers thin in the backfield. Colbert, however, indicated it had nothing to do with that.
Mendenhall's expected replacement as starting halfback, Isaac Redman, will not play Sunday because of a groin injury. John Clay was lost for the season with a leg injury as was starting fullback David Johnson to a torn ACL and MCL.
Hampton, 34, is entering his 12th season and has made five Pro Bowls. Mendenhall, 25, has been their starting halfback the past three seasons after they drafted him in the first round in 2008 and is headed into the final year of his contract.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published August 18, 2012 4:00 AM