When the Pittsburgh Steelers announced nose tackle Casey Hampton was activated off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, it was a mild surprise because there was no hint that the five-time Pro Bowl player was ready to practice after tearing his ACL in January. But Hampton has repeatedly said he was targeting to play in the regular-season opener.
When Pittsburgh announced running back Rashard Mendenhall was removed off the PUP as well, that was a shocker. No one expected Mendenhall to practice until October at the earliest. That includes Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, who told a Pittsburgh radio station earlier this month, "If he's doesn't open on PUP for the first six weeks, I'd be surprised." Well, join the club of those surprised that Mendenhall has been taken off PUP a little over seven months removed from tearing his ACL.
What does activating Hampton and Mendenhall mean? These players can't go back on the PUP to start the season. This move says the Steelers believe both players will be available at some point in the first six weeks of the regular season because they will be on the active roster for those weeks. If Pittsburgh had kept them on the PUP, the Steelers wouldn't have had to use spots on the 53-man roster on Hampton and Mendenhall to start the season.
Although Hampton and Mendenhall are coming off knee injuries, it takes running backs longer to get back on the field because they need to cut and have sudden movement, unlike a nose tackle like Hampton who works in smaller spaces.
Removing Mendenhall off the PUP this early gives the impression that the Steelers are rushing him back, especially in light of the run of injuries at that position. It certainly causes you to wonder the severity of Isaac Redman's groin injury. He didn't practice Thursday after an MRI that morning, and head coach Mike Tomlin refused to give an update. Before getting Mendenhall back, the Steelers had three healthy running backs: Jonathan Dwyer, who had been battling a shoulder injury; Baron Batch and Chris Rainey.
But getting back Mendenhall doesn't mean they're getting the same back who averaged 1,103 yards rushing over the past three seasons. History has shown that it often takes until the second year for running backs to return to pre-injury form.
*UPDATE: Even though Mendenhall is off PUP, he is not expected to be ready to play regular-season opener and could miss most of September, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. If Mendenhall started the season on PUP, he wouldn't be able to play in a game until Oct. 21.