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Mendenhall could miss 2012 season

A torn ACL brought a premature end to Rashard Mendenhall's 2011 season.

A right knee injury sustained by the Steelers' running back may also sideline him for all of 2012.

General manager Kevin Colbert said Monday that Mendenhall is likely to open next season on the physically unable to perform list, as he works his way back from an injury that can be devastating for running backs.

"I never feel good about an ACL until (after) a year," Colbert said. "I'm not a doctor, but that's just my mindset. If he gets back before that, it's a bonus."

Colbert's math when it comes to ACL injuries wouldn't bode well for Mendenhall suiting up next season since he went down Jan. 1 in Cleveland.

Teams are allowed to keep players on the PUP list through the first six weeks of the season. That means the Steelers may have to decide in mid-October whether to add Mendenhall to their active roster or put him on injured reserve.

When asked if Mendenhall may miss all of next season, Colbert said, "(He) possibly could."

Mendenhall has led the team in rushing the past three seasons, but his uncertain status will not compel the Steelers to put more emphasis on running backs when they start preparations for free agency and the draft, Colbert said.

The reason for that, Colbert said, is the team's faith in Isaac Redman and some of the other young backs on the roster. Redman rushed for 213 yards and a touchdown in the Steelers' final two games, and he averaged 7.1 yards per carry in a playoff loss in Denver.

"I think he's established himself as an NFL running back," Colbert said. "Could we add a back• Sure. Are we saying we have to add a back• No."

Mendenhall, a first-round draft pick in 2008, is going into the final year of his contract. His injury puts on hold any plans the Steelers had in signing Mendenhall to a long-term deal. One player that the Steelers hope to sign to a multiyear contract during the offseason is wide receiver Mike Wallace.

Wallace, who is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and his first Pro Bowl appearance, becomes a restricted free agent March 13, the start of the NFL's new year.

The Steelers can offer the third-year veteran a one-year contract that allows them to match any offer made to Wallace by another team and receive a draft pick if he signs elsewhere. Colbert said the Steelers haven't ruled out using a franchise tag on Wallace, which would give them exclusive negotiating rights with him.

"Certainly Mike has done a lot to establish himself as a Pro Bowl receiver, and we want to try to keep Mike here for the long run," Colbert said.

• Notes: Nose tackle Casey Hampton may also open 2012 on the PUP list, Colbert said, if he returns to the Steelers. Hampton sustained an ACL injury in the Steelers' 29-23 loss to Denver on Jan. 8. "Casey will definitely be a PUP candidate," Colbert said. ...The Steelers don't plan on signing any of their own free agents before the March 13 start of free agency, Colbert said. ... Colbert said defensive end Brett Keisel probably won't need surgery to fix the groin injury he suffered in the playoff loss to the Broncos.

Additional Information:

Through the years

Running back Rashard Mendenhall's statistics since the Steelers took him 23rd overall in the 2008 draft:

Year -- G -- Att -- Yards -- Avg -- TD -- Long

2008 -- 4 -- 19 -- 58 -- 3.1 -- 0 -- 12

2009 -- 16 -- 242 -- 1,108 -- 4.6 -- 7 -- 60

2010 -- 16 -- 324 -- 1,273 -- 3.9 -- 13 -- 50

2011 -- 15 -- 228 -- 928 -- 4.1 -- 9 -- 68

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