Injuries leave Steelers thin at running back


By Teresa Varley

Mike Tomlin was asked point blank who was going to start at running back this week when the Steelers head to Jacksonville to face the Jaguars.

He honestly didn't have an answer.

"Pick one for us," said Tomlin. "Your guess is as good as mine at this point."

With Willie Parker already on the sidelines with a sprained knee the Steelers were handed a blow when rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall suffered a fractured shoulder against the Ravens. The injury has brought Mendenhall's season to an end as he will undergo surgery and be placed on injured reserve.

In addition fullback Carey Davis, who was getting the carries in Mendenhall's absence, suffered a sprained ankle.

Parker has already been ruled out for this Sunday's game and while Davis felt better on Tuesday, it's unsure what his status will be for this week. If he can't go tight end Sean McHugh would be an option at fullback.

The Steelers will look to possibly sign two running backs in the next day not just to bolster the depth, but possibly to find a starter.

"Rest assured we'll play with a running back this week," said Tomlin.

Mewelde Moore is the only completely healthy running back currently on the roster and he was called into service against the Ravens late in the game to be the go-to guy. Tomlin has confidence that he could answer the call if need be, but he wants to explore all avenues.

"He is capable and has done it in his career," said Tomlin. "Maybe not for 16 games but there have been stretches, eight or 10 games where he is capable of doing that and has done it in his career. We are going to weigh all of our options."

Unfortunately for the Steelers the injuries don't end at running back. Guard Kendall Simmons suffered a ruptured Achilles and is also done for the season and will be placed on injured reserve.

Darnell Stapleton filled in for Simmons against the Ravens, but it will be a battle to see who starts this week. Trai Essex, who was inactive for the Ravens game because Stapleton is a back-up snapper, will compete for the starting job.

"Darnell stepped in and played and did a solid job," said Tomlin. "This week we will open it up and get some competition. Darnell is a capable guy. Trai is a capable guy who played a bunch of guard in training camp. Those guys will be pitted against one another and compete this week and we'll see how it plays out."

On the defensive line Casey Hampton (groin strain) and Brett Keisel (calf strain) have both been ruled out for the Jaguars game. There is progress though with both of them and Parker.

"Those three are getting better," said Tomlin. "We'll be looking forward to seeing where those guys are potentially after the bye."

The team got a real scare on the opening kickoff when linebacker Andre Frazier was injured and had to be strapped to a board and taken off the field on a cart. But Frazier returned to the sidelines in the second half and the prognosis is good.

"He looks to be doing remarkably fine, which is good," said Tomlin. "All indications are that this guy has a chance to move on and play this week provided he passes some tests which people are pretty confident he will. It's really a blessing. It's scary when you see someone lying flat and they bring a board out and those things. A lot of that was probably for precautionary reasons, but you want to exercise caution under those circumstances."

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