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Steelers' Mendenhall returns, addresses team

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 7:02 p.m.
Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall during practice on the South Side Dec. 19, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall addressed his teammates Wednesday in hopes of defusing any distractions he might have caused with his weeklong suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.

Coach Mike Tomlin suspended Mendenhall for failing to show up at Heinz Field for the team's upset loss to San Diego on Dec. 9.

Mendenhall offered no reasons for not showing but said he is focused on his immediate future.

“I don't know the decisions up there (coaches and front office), how they're made,” Mendenhall said. “Just for me, from the day I got here, I've continued to work as hard as I can and do everything I can, and with that, I'm OK.

“I can look at that and be complete with that. I'll just continue to work, and whatever happens, whatever opportunity is in front of me, it'll show itself.”

Mendenhall has struggled to recapture the form that enabled him to lead the team in rushing the past three seasons, in part because he has been slowed by a reconstructed right knee and an Achilles injury.

“We realize how hard he worked today to help us get to the Super Bowl, and that's what he said to us,” said running back Jonathan Dwyer, who supplanted Mendenhall as the team's feature back. “We accept him. We all look after each other, and we're glad to have him back.”

Running back Isaac Redman said the team has moved on and expects Mendenhall to contribute during the final two regular-season games.

“We know what kind of player he is,” Redman said “Rashard has never caused a problem here. He comes to work and does what he's supposed to do. It was just an unfortunate situation that he went through.”

Mendenhall becomes an unrestricted free agent at season's end and told the Tribune-Review recently that he was uncertain about his future with the team.

Mendenhall isn't sure if he'll be activated for Sunday's key AFC North matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field. He hasn't played since fumbling twice in a 20-14 loss at Cleveland on Nov. 25.

“I don't know what chances or opportunities are going to be given to me,” said Mendenhall, who has rushed for 113 yards on 34 carries this season. “I just want to continue to work every day.”

In suspending Mendenhall, Tomlin challenged him to deal with “frustrations” that may have triggered his actions after he was put on the inactive list for the second consecutive week. But Mendenhall pushed back against that characterization.

“I wouldn't use that word (frustration) because there's a lot of thought that goes into anything I do,” Mendenhall said.

While there may be some uncertainty surrounding Mendenhall, Redman is confident Mendenhall can add a spark against the Bengals, a game that could decide the Steelers' playoff fate.

“I feel like it's important to get Rashard back on the field,” Redman said. “For one, he's fresh, and he's proven year in and year out he's a good back in this league.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com.

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