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Steelers' Mendenhall confident about recovery

| Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall practices Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, on the South Side. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

Rashard Mendenhall doesn't have a clue when he'll carry the football for the first time this season.

It won't come at Buffalo on Saturday. He'll most likely be sidelined for the regular-season opener Sept. 9 at Denver.

For now, the greatest challenge facing Mendenhall is patience.

“To be real, I don't know when I'll be ready to play,” said Mendenhall, who injured his right knee in the 2011 regular-season finale Jan. 1 at Cleveland. “I'm just working with the training staff and doing what I can to get on the field.”

Mendenhall was expected to start the season on the physically unable to perform list. So it was somewhat surprising when he was activated Friday along with nose tackle Casey Hampton, who also had offseason knee surgery.

For Mendenhall, the move was necessary to help him adjust to a new offense and prepare mentally for rigorous workouts and practices.

“I don't question anything I'm doing in practice,” he said. “I can do most everything I did before, but I have to keep it within a certain realm that I'm comfortable with.

“I was comfortable during the 7-on-7 drills. I jumped in some plays here and there, and hopefully we'll increase that as we go along.”

Though Mendenhall practiced Wednesday, he said it's difficult to gauge when he'll be at full strength — or ready to split duty with Isaac Redman, who is slowed by a hip injury.

“I'm not looking that far down the line,” Mendenhall said. “I just try to take it as it comes and increase things as they go along, and wherever it puts me — that's where I'll be. I just look at every day, and do whatever I can.”

Mendenhall appears physically fit and mentally prepared to play. However, it'll be some time before the Steelers are convinced his reconstructed knee can absorb a hit or that it won't buckle when he plants while shifting gears.

“Obviously, he's not going to run against all the defenses, but he looked good,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “For the individual stuff he did, he looked confident.”

Mendenhall went through most of the individual drills without flinching. He spent much of the afternoon watching and learning the new schemes of offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

“For Rashard, it's about getting back out there and feeling comfortable with what he has in front of him,” offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert said. “He looked pretty impressive, but he'll need to improve every day, so as to not go backward.”

Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923.

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