Having a different starting running back throughout this season has become commonplace for the Steelers with Isaac Redman getting five starts, Rashard Mendenhall four, and Jonathan Dwyer two. But all the while, Mendenhall was listed on the depth chart as the team’s starter. Until this week, that is.
Coach Mike Tomlin mixed things up, naming Dwyer the starter and listing him first on the depth chart, while Redman is listed second and Mendenhall now third.
“That was their decision, what they wanted to do,” said Dwyer, who was very low key about it. “I’m just trying to do my job. It’s what they want to do and I am adjusting to it. I just want to help us win games. That is what it’s all about. The fact that they want me to start is their decision, but I just want to do what I can to help us win games.”
Dwyer is the Steelers leading rusher with 98 carries for 429 yards, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Redman has 87 carries for 307 yards and two touchdowns, while Mendenhall, who has been injured part of the season, has 34 carries for 113 yards.
“That is how we are going to approach the week and I will just do whatever I am asked to,” said Mendenhall. “I don’t think too much of it. I have been in a lot of positions. I am just approaching this week like I approach every week.”
Mendenhall said Tomlin talked to him about the change, but when asked what his reaction was or if he was surprised, he said he is just approaching it like he does every other week.
“I don’t really react to too much of anything,” said Mendenhall. “I just continue to prepare and I will be ready to play. For me I don’t react. That is what is in front of me and that is how I am going to approach it.
“I just approach the week as it is. There is always opportunity and whatever happens from those is just what happens. I am just going to take advantage of whatever opportunities I get.”
One thing that will be a focus for all of the backs this week is ball security, after each of them fumbled in the 20-14 loss to the Browns last week.
“We are going to work on it,” said Dwyer. “It’s going to be made an emphasis for us all week. We’re going to get it done.”
Don’t look for the players to be carrying a football with them around the team’s practice facility, instead the work will all be done on the field.
“We just have to get back to the fundamentals,” said Mendenhall. “We saw on film where we were kind of lax in places. We have to approach this week like we are going to approach the game with our ball security.”
Running back isn’t the only position where there could be a shake-up this week as Mike Wallace is listed as the starting wide receiver as usual, but Emmanuel Sanders is listed as the starter at the spot as well. Wallace said it doesn’t matter who starts on Sunday, he will be out there giving his all.
“I have to still do what I have to do, regardless of the situation,” said Wallace. “If I am out there, I will give everything I’ve got. I am still going to be in the football game regardless of the situation.
“It’s not going to change the way I prepare or anything I do. I am going to do everything the same.”
Wallace, who had just one reception for nine yards against the Browns, admittedly has been frustrated by his production this season, but said it isn’t from lack of effort.
“I have to prepare like I do,” said Wallace. “I think I work hard every single day. I don’t lag, I don’t play at practice. I work hard every day.”
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There could be a major change on the Steelers’ offensive line on Sunday against the Ravens after center Maurkice Pouncey worked at left guard in practice, while Willie Colon sat out still bothered by his knee.
“If Willie Colon doesn’t play, I will play guard,” said Pouncey, who hasn’t practiced at the position since training camp of his rookie season. “I am glad Coach (Mike) Tomlin put us in pads today. It gave me the opportunity to go out there and get my technique down and feel the physicality of it. I got to see the different looks at guard than I do at center.”
There has been a rash of injuries on the line recently, including tackle Mike Adams who already has been ruled out this week. Pouncey knows if one man goes down, others have to just step up their game.
“We have some injuries and it’s different but we have to keep fighting,” said Pouncey. “We have to be professional about it. We have to get better in practice.”
If Pouncey were to move to guard, Doug Legursky would start at center.
“I think it is no secret around the league or around this locker room that I am a better center than I am a guard,” said Legursky. “I know personally that I am more natural there.”
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Quarterback Charlie Batch talked on Wednesday about the offense, his performance and this week’s game against the Ravens.
Re: Performance Sunday and your thoughts moving forward:
I have to play better. It’s something I can do. I turned the football over three times. Right now, I just have to figure out a way to get us into the end zone, and that’s what I have to do.
How much input did you have in the game plan last week and will you have a little more this week?
With me, I did have an input in the game plan. That’s something that as you go throughout the course of the week, you start with what you like and what you don’t like. I don’t expect that to change this week and that’s something that, between today and Friday, I’ll have better indication of what I like moving forward.
What kind of a difference does it make having WR Antonio Brown in the lineup?
Depending on how this week goes, that can determine what our packages are for the week. We’ll be encouraged as we go through. Right now, I know he’s excited to get back on the field. It’s been a while for him, and I’ll be excited as well.
What do you think will go better this week?
I have to make better decisions. The three turnovers just can’t happen, especially when you’re moving the football. I think right now, just getting back on the practice field, I have to go out there and make sure I get the timing with the receivers. And I need to make sure I’m doing whatever it takes to put this team in the end zone.
You said that if you put the ball out there two or three yards more on a pass to Wallace that hit Browns S T.J. Ward in the helmet it would have been a completion. Do you still have that two or three yards more?
Absolutely, and that’s something when you’re going that deep and trying to make a decision 50 yards down the field on his angle, that’s something that I have to figure out a way to get that ball in front of him, because that’s a potential 70 or 80-yard touchdown pass in that situation. You just make sure you continue to work on that timing.
Do you have any concerns about your game speed, your arm strength, getting the ball deep or making the throws to the sideline?
Not at all.
Did you struggle with some decision making because of the offense being choppy with all the turnovers? Did you feel like you needed big chunks of yards and pushed the ball deep down the field to Wallace in double coverage?
No. Every situation is different throughout the course of the game. For me, when you’re in those critical situations, I just have to make better decisions. The last interception was a first-down play. We didn’t necessarily need to have the ball pushed down the field the way that I did. I could have easily checked it down and continued to play ball. Any time that you have situations like that, you would love to have those back. Unfortunately, I couldn’t and that’s why you get back on the field and get ready for Baltimore.
Is there any difference in this Ravens defense than ones you may have faced in the past?
No, because we just saw them two weeks ago. They did a lot of good things on their side that kind of messed with us defensively. And I’m sure we’ll continue to see that. We’ll see an added element that they’re going to add this week. We’re just going to have to prepare for everything.
How weird is it to face a team like this you know so well twice in three games?
It’s definitely weird but this is the way that the schedule was dealt. We knew that we were going to be dealing with this situation two weeks ago and when the schedule came out. It’s nothing that surprised us, and right now what we have to do is prepare for them.
Do you expect QB Ben Roethlisberger to lobby hard to play?
I’ve been around him long enough [to know that]. I’m sure he’s been lobbying the last couple weeks. That’ll be something that he and Coach Tomlin talk about.
This team has won without Roethlisberger before. What makes this stretch different? Are there mistakes that you avoided before and are costing you now?
I think it’s that we’ve been able to get wins the last couple of times. That’s what’s different about it right now. We have to figure out whatever we need to do because as we continue to push during the final stretch of our season in order for us to get to where we want to get to, we have to start winning.
Is the offense too reliant on Roethlisberger’s specific skill set?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that because there are a lot of guys on this team that are capable of making plays. For whatever reason, we just haven’t been able to get into the end zone, and I think right now we’re going to figure out a way to do that. I don’t think that anybody in this locker room would think any other way.
Do you think the offense will take a bigger step this week with you at quarterback after having a game under your belt?
We’re going to have to. Last week, we only put up one touchdown, and defensively they did a great job. They went out there and played phenomenal throughout the course of that game. We just continued to put them in bad situations. In order for us to grow, we can’t do that offensively. We’re going to go out there, work hard and continue to do what we need to do in order to make progress this week.
What role might WR Plaxico Burress have this week?
We’ll see how that plays out. We don’t know how it’s going to play out because Antonio [Brown] can make a difference either way as far as packages go. I’m sure we’ll be able to answer that throughout the course of the week.
Is it frustrating to have an offensive line that is continually banged-up and shuffled around?
That’s tough, but either way it’s the next guy’s opportunity. Early on this year we had to deal with the same situations, and for us, we’ve been able to battle through that. Right now is no different.
Do you still have the feeling that you need to redeem yourself, even after playing for so many years?
I still have it because I know I didn’t play well last week. Any time that you have another opportunity like this week, for me this is going out there and making sure I don’t make those mistakes again.
Is there a statement Coach Tomlin was trying to make naming WR Mike Wallace a co-starter and naming RB Jonathan Dwyer the starter?
I don’t know. When we hear it, we hear it the same time that you do. I wouldn’t look into anything more than that.
Are teams defending you differently with Roethlisberger out?
No, not at all.
Are teams defending you differently with Brown out of the lineup?
No, because it depends on the different formations and what we’re trying to take advantage of. We haven’t been able to do that over the last couple of weeks. Those questions tend to play out throughout the course of the game.
Have you seen Wallace double covered a little bit more in the last few games than he was when Brown was on the field?
Possibly. I wasn’t seeing him double-teamed any more than he was in the past. You have to respect his speed and teams obviously do.
Do you expect to improve now that this will be consecutive starts for you?
For me, you have that opportunity to go out again and correct those mistakes. Now you’re dealing with timing issues, and you’re talking about play clock management. I had a delay of game and that’s unacceptable. I shouldn’t do that and it has to be corrected this week. You’re talking about five yards of field position in that situation. Obviously, I was disappointed and Coach Tomlin was disappointed in that because that’s something where I expect better from myself.
Tags: Charlie Batch
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Wide receiver Antonio Brown was back on the practice field on Wednesday, returning for the first time since he injured his ankle in the second quarter against the New York Giants.
“It felt pretty good,” said Brown. “I am still a little sore, but it is a lot better than it was and I continue to get better. Today I practiced without tape and it was still a little achy. Tomorrow I am going to come out and tape it so it feels more comfortable and continue to find what feels good.”
Brown missed the last three games because of the injury, mainly hampered by the swelling in the ankle.
“When there is swelling on your feet it doesn’t allow you to put pressure on your leg and be as fluid in being able to run,” said Brown. “When you put pressure on the ground and your ankle is still swollen, you feel it through your leg and your mind. When you’re coming out fast and you want to stop, it’s hard to put on the brakes like I usually can. It’s a great thing that I’m back on my feet, I’m back running and I look forward to being out there.”
Being sidelined for three games, which included two losses to AFC North rivals, wasn’t easy for Brown and he hopes this week he can get back out there and have an impact on the offense.
“It’s always hard to watch your teammates in battle and you aren’t able to be out there to help them,” said Brown. “I am thankful I can be out there this week to help out.”
Guard David DeCastro, who was activated from the injured reserve/designated for return list earlier this week, increased his workload on Wednesday as he is moving closer to getting back in game action.
“Just getting back out there being with the guys was good (last week), but putting the pads on and playing real football will be nice,” said DeCastro.
DeCastro doesn’t know yet if he will be called upon to play or start this week, a call he said is in the hands of the coaching staff.
“I am listening to the coaches,” said DeCastro. “They know what they are doing. I am just trying to get out there and see how it feels with the pads on.”
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (right shoulder) saw limited work in practice, as did receiver Jerricho Cotchery (ribs), while Troy Polamalu (calf) was a full participant.
Missing practice were tackles Mike Adams (ankle) and Max Starks (back), guard Willie Colon (knee), linebacker LaMarr Woodley (ankle) and quarterback Byron Leftwich (ribs).
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Steelers’ Player Appearances Presented by Pepsi at Pittsburgh area Giant Eagle locations.
Monday Dec. 3rd 6-7pm
New Kensington Giant Eagle
200 Tarentum Bridge Road
New Kensington, PA 15068
Tuesday, December 4: 6-7p
Donaldson’s Crossroads Giant Eagle
4007 Washington Road
McMurray, PA 15317
Thursday, December 6: 6-7p
Camp Horne Giant Eagle
132 Ben Avon Heights Roads
Pittsburgh, PA 15237
Saturday, December 8; 1p-2p
Cranberry Giant Eagle
20111 Route 19
Cranberry Mall SC
Cranberry Twp, PA 16066
Monday, December 10: 6-7pm
South Hills Market District
7000 Oxford Drive
Bethel Park, PA 15102
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