The Steelers aren't counting on running back Rashard Mendenhall to play in 2012, but general manager Kevin Colbert didn't rule out a return by the running back sometime next season. Mendenhall, the team's leading rusher for the past three seasons, tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the Jan. 1 regular-season finale at Cleveland.
"I never feel good about an ACL for a year," Colbert told Pittsburgh reporters Monday.
The Steelers are right in that they should brace for the worst-case scenario. In all likelihood, Mendenhall will start the season on the physically unable to perform list, which means he'll miss at least the first six games of the season. There's no guarantee he'll be at full strength after that.
The only problem in the Steelers' plan is dismissing running back as a position of need this offseason. "Our young backup contributors did a nice job," Colbert said.
Pittsburgh should feel good about backup Isaac Redman after he ran for 121 yards in the playoff loss at Denver. But there is no certainty that he can handle a full workload for an extended amount of games. There are also questions about his ability to hold onto the ball.
Beyond Redman, there are promising running backs in Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay and Baron Batch. The problem is, they have a combined 35 carries in the NFL. If something happens to Redman, are the Steelers prepared to make one of them a featured back? At the very least, they need to find a more experienced backup behind Redman.
The Steelers are limited in what they can do because they're over the salary cap, and I'm not advocating signing someone like Marshawn Lynch. Pittsburgh just has to start looking to the future at running back sooner than later because Mendenhall is a free agent after the 2012 season.