Mendenhall believes he will play Sunday

Running back Rashard Mendenhall has been practicing since the regular season began, but for the first time all season he is doing so this week with playing actually a reality.

"I believe so, but we'll see," said Mendenhall when asked after practice on Wednesday if he expects to play and start Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles at Heinz Field.

Mendenhall opened training camp on the PUP list, but was activated near the end of camp. He didn't play in the preseason and was sidelined for the first three games, still going through the final steps on the road to recovery from a torn ACL suffered at the end of last season against the Cleveland Browns.

"I have been taking steps accordingly so I feel confident in everything I have been able to do," said Mendenhall. "It feels good. It continues to feel good. The next step is getting out there. I am confident in that. The game will tell."

Mendenhall's return could be just what the doctor ordered for the running game, which has averaged only 65 yards per game in the first three games.

"Everyone has his own style and brings something special to the game," said running back Jonathan Dwyer. "He has speed and elusiveness, Isaac (Redman) and I are power guys who can make people miss too. Rashard being back adds more talent and it's a great thing for us as a team and makes us a better group."

Redman has started in Mendenhall's absence, rushing for 72 yards on 32 carries and one touchdown, and while he understands Mendenhall's return will change his role, he is looking forward to having a full complement of backs available.

"It means a lot. He is back, gives us more depth at the running back spot," said Redman. "We are looking for him to do big things. We are just waiting for our breakout game. Hopefully we can do it this week."

With Mendenhall out it's been a mix of backs carrying the load, with Redman, Dwyer, Chris Rainey and Baron Batch all getting carries. But a steady dose of Mendenhall could be the key.

"You have so many running backs that are great here," said tackle Max Starks. "They are splitting time, fighting for reps and it makes it tough a little bit to get into the game. You get one or two carries and the next guy is up. It's tough.

"It just takes a rhythm and tempo. Once we stabilize that position we will settle in and have more success running the ball."

Getting the running game going could help open things up for the offense overall, and wide receiver Mike Wallace is hoping it gives him the chance to make some splash plays.

"I have been waiting for that a couple of weeks, for some explosive plays," said Wallace. "They will come with due time. I am not pressing it. We all want a couple more shots because we are used to having big explosive plays and we haven't had many this year. It's a matter of time. They will come."

Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery likes the confidence he sees in the Steelers' locker room, despite a 1-2 start that they admittedly aren't happy with.

"I think the main thing we do here is focus on the things we can control and that is playing fast, being physical and knowing what to do," said Cotchery. "It's things of that nature. We don't hit panic buttons, we just come to work and get better individually, collectively and once we get on the field put it all together."

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