In clarifying his previous remarks about the Pittsburgh running back, general manager Kevin Colbert said he does expect Mendenhall to play this 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.
"What I said was I never think players coming off an ACL are 100 percent for a full year. It doesn't mean they can't play," Colbert told Pittsburgh reporters (via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) before the start of the NFL owners meetings. "At some point, we'll have Rashard back. I'm confident of that."
Colbert, though, doesn't provide the most important detail: when he expects Mendenhall to come back. To be honest, he might not even know the exact timetable.
Given the timing of his mid-January surgery, Mendenhall is a near certainty to begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP), which means missing the first six games of the season. The best bet is an early November return, but you can't expect him to be the primary runner at that point. Like Colbert pointed out, it'll probably take Mendenhall a full season before he is fully recovered.
While Colbert couldn't say when Mendenhall will suit up again, he did give insight on who will replace him.
“With the young guys we have, we feel confident someone will emerge who can fill that role," Colbert said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Somebody in the group of those guys will fill it out.”
This means the Steelers are prepared to go with someone in-house to take over for Mendenhall and rules out finding a primary back in free agency (which has thinned out at running back) or the draft. The leading candidate remains backup Isaac Redman.