Rashard Mendenhall is expected to return in Week 5 for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who haven't been able to get their ground attack going with their starting running back on the sidelines after he had knee surgery in the offseason.
The Steelers, who had their bye in Week 4, rank 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game (65.0) and yards per carry (2.6). No running back has cracked 50 yards in a game, much less 100. The longest run was 13 yards by Isaac Redman.
"We're gauging it, me and the coaches, and when we get to the point where we all think I can play then I'll get back in there," Mendenhall said after Monday's practice.
Mendenhall, who tore his ACL on Jan. 1 in the final game of the 2011 season, has rushed for over 1,000 yards in two of the last three seasons. During the offseason, general manager Kevin Colbert said the Steelers couldn't count on having Mendenhall for the 2012 season because of the injury but the team desperately needs him now.
"I'm really just waiting on my opportunity," Mendenhall told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I just want to continue to work and, as we as an offense sort of form ourselves and bring the pieces together, I want to bring whatever piece I bring.
"But we struggled as a running game early in the season last year, and that's part of it. We just want to continue to grow and, as long as we get better and not worse, that's what we want to do. But we see it from a different light -- we see how close we are (to breaking out) so we just will keep working."
Steelers players were cautious to proclaim that Mendenhall's return alone will get the team's ground game going, but even Redman concedes that Mendenhall brings an aspect to the Steelers' rushing attack that has been missing.
"I think Rashard has that gifted ability to make those quick cuts and get to the outside and have those big, long, breakaway runs," he told the Post-Gazette.
Mendenhall's knee feels good and he believes that his speed and ability to make cuts has returned, the newspaper reported. He told the newspaper that his biggest adjustment will be learning to work with new teammates and adjust to new offensive coordinator Todd Haley's offense.
"It is a different offense, and we have some different guys and we're just trying to figure out how to put it all together," he told the newspaper.
The Steelers (1-2) host the Eagles (3-1) on Sunday.
Information from ESPN AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley and The Associated Press was used in this report.