From Comcast SportsNetPITTSBURGH (AP) -- Rashard Mendenhall's surgically repaired right knee feels so good, the Steelers running back isn't even wearing so much as an ace bandage over it when he practices."I put a sleeve on for a day and didn't like it," Mendenhall said. "I feel better without anything on it."The 25-year-old hardly looked like he needed one on Wednesday. Asked by coach Mike Tomlin to knock Mendenhall around a little bit, Pittsburgh's defense obliged by getting a couple of shots in during their one padded workout of the week.How it'd feel?"It was cool," Mendenhall said. "I was all good."And -- the Steelers hope -- their running game will be too.Though it's still uncertain whether Mendenhall will be ready to play on Sunday when the Steelers (1-1) travel to Oakland (0-2), there's little doubt he's inching closer to a return barely nine months removed from surgery to repair the ACL he tore in last year's regular season finale against Cleveland."He looked fast," offensive guard Willie Colon said. "Everything I saw was a good sign."Pittsburgh could certainly use a healthy Mendenhall to help take some of the pressure off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.The Steelers rank 30th in the NFL in rushing with just 141 yards through the season's first two weeks and are averaging an anemic 2.6 yards per carry. Nearly 20 percent of their 54 running plays have gone for negative yardage, though Roethlisberger and one of the league's top receiving corps has helped Pittsburgh control the ball for more than 35 minutes a game behind some third-down heroics.Roethlisberger, however, knows his team won't continue to convert 56 percent (19 of 34) of its third downs if something doesn't start happening on the ground."We don't want to do that all year," Roethlisberger said. "I can tell you that much."Mendehall's presence means they might not have to.He narrowly missed his third straight 1,000-yard season last fall due in part to a slightly decreased workload and an awkward step against Cleveland on New Year's Day when he tried to plant while trying to cut back near the sideline only to have his knee buckle.Mendenhall didn't even travel to Denver for the playoff game, where replacement Isaac Redman rushed for a respectable 121 yards in a 29-23 overtime loss to the Broncos. Though he underwent surgery shortly after getting hurt, Mendenhall has been careful not to put a definite timetable on his rehab. Still, he's grown increasingly more active in practice over the last two weeks.Asked if he believes he can play on Sunday against the Raiders, Mendenhall shrugged his shoulders and said "possibly," while remaining vague about what exactly it will take for him to get cleared."When there's a green light," Mendenhall said, "that's what I'm preparing for."Having Mendenhall's familiar No. 34 in the backfield would certainly be a welcome sight for the Steelers. Redman has done little through two games. A quarter of his 23 carries have ended with Redman getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage. Jonathan Dwyer has been more consistent -- rushing for 71 yards on 21 carries -- but is dealing with a turf toe that relegated him to watching practice in sweats on Wednesday.New Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley promised to develop a physical presence in the running game that he used so successfully during his two-plus year tenure as coach in Kansas City. It hasn't quite happened yet and Tomlin acknowledged it's an area that needs some work."We have got a desire to have balance, to be able to attack people in ways that we desire," Tomlin said. "Over time we better be continually moving toward that. Obviously there's been somewhat of an imbalance to this point, but that's just eight quarters of football."At times, the Steelers appear to be experimenting with schemes. They pitched wide to the lumbering Redman on the second play of the game last Sunday against the New York Jets only to see him get slammed for a seven-yard loss. On third-and-9 on the same possession, they converted by sending wide receiver Antonio Brown on an end around.Mendenhall described the mixed results on the ground the result of growing pains. Pittsburgh ran the ball on 17 of their 27 first-down plays against New York in an attempt to set a tone, though center Maurkice Pouncey doesn't think predictability is a problem."Whatever coach calls we've got to go out and execute," he said. "It doesn't matter if he calls a triple reverse, we've got to go out and block it."Besides, the season is still young and Mendenhall believes the offense is still searching for its identity."I think we're still getting in the groove of things with Haley," he said. "We're still shaping it."NOTES:In addition to Dwyer, linebacker James Harrison (knee), safety Troy Polamalu (calf), right tackle Marcus Gilbert (groin), tight end Heath Miller (abdomen) and wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders (knee) and Mike Wallace (groin) did not practice ... Tackle Mike Adams (back) and linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (knee) were limited.
Here is what you need to know on this Monday, June 26, 31 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.
The Redskins last played a game 176 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 76 days.
—Franchise tag contract deadline (7/17) 21
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 45
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 68
Redskins quick hitters
—Don’t look for Jamison Crowder to play much at running back. A couple of weeks ago Jay Gruden did say that he is capable of lining up in the backfield but that was more of a throwaway line, more of a compliment to Crowder’s versatility than a hint of a major shift. Crowder is way too valuable as a receiver and the Redskins are happy with Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine at running back. Crowder might line up in the backfield as an occasional wrinkle but not much beyond that, barring some sort of catastrophe.
—Speaking of running backs, don’t look for the Redskins to make any move with Matt Jones before training camp unless they get a trade offer. There is no reason to simply cut him when he can supply depth at a position where injuries are always a risk. Jones really doesn’t have any options. He could not report to training camp but that would cost him $40,000 per day (yes, per day—they really don’t like players under contract holding out of camp). His best bet is to report, work hard, and see if an opportunity arises on his current team or elsewhere. In hindsight, his agent did not serve him well by advising him to sit out OTAs. Even if the chances of him being in Washington in September are slim, Jones needs all the football reps he can get.
—The Redskins have about $6.4 million in cap space remaining. They could spend a little bit more, perhaps on an extension for Spencer Long. And they want to go into the season with some cushion for injured reserve and to pay the practice squad. But looking at that number, it’s hard to see how they can’t bridge the gap in the Kirk Cousins negotiations. Taking some purely hypothetical numbers here, let’s say that the Redskins want to pay $21 million per year and Cousins’ camp wants $24 million. It would be hard to convince me that they couldn’t find a happy medium at $23 million and just carry $2 million less into the following year to pay for the difference. The talent level on the team would be virtually unchanged. Two or three million dollars a year isn’t a rounding error but on a $167 million cap it’s not huge money.
—The Redskins seem to have a lot banking on Chase Roullier to be their backup center. That’s big pressure a sixth-round pick who is playing for a head coach who says his greatest fear is being without a capable center. Gruden said that all the O-linemen are cross trained and that’s great. But I can’t see any of the primary guards—Shawn Lauvao, Brandon Scherff, or Arie Koundjio—do anything more than finish out a game at center if Spencer Long got hurt. There are some interesting names on this list of the top 50 available free agents but only one is a center. And I don’t think that Nick Mangold is going to sign up for a backup role. Can Roullier get up to speed?
In case you missed it
New Redskins receiver Terrelle Pryor has been working out with Steelers All-Pro Antonio Brown this offseason.
The pair documented their receiving drills, ladder drills and even yoga on social media. But what you didn't see, according to ESPN's John Keim, is Pryor practicing with special glasses that Brown recommended.
Based on Brown’s advice, Pryor has also worn special sunglasses during offseason workouts, designed to prevent him from seeing an object – in this case the ball – until it is almost upon him. Sometimes he takes his gloves off, just to get a feel for the ball with his hands.
The glasses Keim describes sound more like blinders, or even tunnel vision, but the idea is to help Pryor get an instinctive feel for running routes.
Despite putting up 1,007 receiving yards with the Browns last year, Pryor has only played the position since 2015. His first four seasons in the NFL were spent trying to make a roster playing quarterback.
Now penciled into a starting receiver role for the Redskins, he knows he has a lot of catching up to do.
"The good ones, they ask questions and never think they’ve got it. They always want to learn," Pryor said, "I’m not calling myself a great one, but I think I can get there."
MORE REDSKINS: Redskins Playbook: Some good news for Kirk Cousins