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RB Mendenhall ready to return for Steelers

RB Mendenhall ready to return for Steelers

PITTSBURGH (AP) Insisting he feels well with no setbacks after a full week of practice, running back Rashard Mendenhall is set to return for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Because of an Achilles injury, Mendenhall has missed all four games of a winning streak that the Steelers (6-3) carry into their Sunday showdown with the Baltimore Ravens (7-2).

Mendenhall had not been through a full practice in more than a month, but made it through complete workouts Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. He is officially listed as probable.

``He looks like he's back to his old form,'' running back Isaac Redman said. ``He's making all the cuts, it looks like he has his burst. So he looks good.''

With former 1,200-yard rusher Mendenhall back, the Steelers have to decide how to split carries between he, Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. Redman and Dwyer each had 100-yard rushing games while Mendenhall was out.

``All three of us are going to play,'' Redman said. ``And we're just going to keep it rolling throughout the game and try to keep a fresh running back in there at all times. We're going to try to pound them.''

With Mendenhall unavailable to play the first three games of the season because of his recovery from a torn ACL sustained Jan. 1, the Steelers running game struggled. Pittsburgh averaged 65 rushing yards per game in starting 1-2.

Since Mendenhall returned with a 68-yard performance in a win over Philadelphia Oct. 7 - to that point, the most yards by a Pittsburgh back this season - the Steelers have improved their NFL ranking in rushing yards from 31st to 20th.

After being deactivated for the two previous games, Dwyer had consecutive 100-yard efforts in victories over Cincinnati and Washington. Then Redman had 147 rushing yards in a 24-20 win at the defending Super Bowl-champion Giants Nov. 4.

``We were able to get those 100-yard games and able to kind of pound teams out,'' Redman said, ``and kind of make them quit in the fourth quarter.''

After a mediocre, Dwyer-led, 95-yard rushing performance in a lackluster 16-13 overtime win over the last-place Kansas City Chiefs on Monday, the Steelers will have the choice of three feature backs when first place is on the line Sunday.

``We're ready, and we have all three guys - the first time all three of us are going to suit up at the same time,'' Redman said. ``So we're really looking forward to this running game.''

Whether on marching orders from the coaching staff or simply because even they aren't aware of coordinator Todd Haley's intentions, the backs insist they don't know the plan for sharing carries. Counting fullback Will Johnson, rookie speedster Chris Rainey and special teams stalwart Baron Batch, it's likely the Steelers will dress six running backs against the Ravens.

``Good thing I'm not the offensive coordinator,'' Mendenhall said with a smile. ``For us, our focus is winning first and foremost, and we want to do well as an offense with whatever helps us to do that. It's a long season, and we're going to need everybody.''

Dwyer and Redman have been steadfast in maintaining that, when healthy, Mendenhall - a 2008 first-round pick - is the first-team back. A free agent after the season, Mendenhall said he feels 100 percent healthy.

``I wouldn't step out there if that wasn't the case,'' he said. ``I feel good with where I'm at.''

With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out with his shoulder and rib injuries, Pittsburgh will lean on the run game against a Ravens defense that ranks 26th in the league in rushing yards allowed. Pittsburgh's Byron Leftwich is making his first NFL start at quarterback in more than three years.

``If (yardage) comes in chunks, if it comes in dink-and-dunk, it doesn't matter,'' Leftwich said. ``We don't care. We're just trying to win the football game. ``We all understand the importance of this football game. Let's not try to act like it ain't. This is an important football game for both teams.''

Roethlisberger isn't the only prominent Steelers player ruled out of Sunday's game. Receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) will miss his second consecutive game, All Pro safety Troy Polamalu has played only once since the season opener because of a calf injury and starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) has missed four straight games.

Free safety Ryan Clark is probable to play six days after sustaining his second concussion in a 16-day span against the Chiefs.

``Nothing is wrong,'' Clark said on Friday. ``No sensitivity to light, no headaches, no extra fatigue and no problems sleeping. Everything is fine. I'm good to go and excited to be out there on Sunday.''

Also probable for the Steelers are defensive end Brett Keisel, cornerback Ike Taylor, left tackle Max Starks and cornerback Curtis Brown.

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Online:http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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5 Ravens under the radar when camp opens

5 Ravens under the radar when camp opens

The Ravens officially open training camp next Wednesday and will hold their first practice on Thursday. Over the ensuing five weeks, the annual process of culling a 90-man roster down to 53 will take place. Here, in alphabetical order, are five players who will be under the radar when camp opens but could have an impact on the Ravens this season:

WR Jeremy Butler

The receivers group is going to generate a lot of buzz this camp. Steve Smith Sr. is back from his Achilles injury after all at age 37, Mike Wallace is an intriguing addition and Breshad Perriman might finally get on the field after his latest injury. Then of course a lot of local eyes will be on former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds and River Hill product Michael Campanaro. But don't sleep on Butler, who has always produced some of his best work on the Owings Mills practice fields, which is how he ultimately earned a promotion to the active roster last year and produced 31 catches for 363 yards.

CB Will Davis

Davis played just two games for the Ravens last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. But the four-year veteran showed promise in his brief time with the Ravens, who traded a seventh-round draft pick to the Dolphins last September to acquire Davis. With Jimmy Smith likely to be slowed early in camp after offseason foot surgery, Davis should have a lot of opportunity to state his case.

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G Vladimir Ducasse

John Urschel appears to be the front-runner to replace Kelechi Osemele at left guard for the Ravens, and Ryan Jensen and rookie Alex Lewis also could get a look. Ducasse, 28, though, has more experience than all of them; he is a former second-round draft pick who has made 22 career starts, including 11 for the Bears last season.

S Anthony Levine

Levine has been a versatile player in four seasons with the Ravens. He's seen time at cornerback and at safety and has been one of the top special teams players the past few years. During OTAs, Levine even spent some time working with the inside linebacker group. The Ravens will probably continue using him as a jack-of-all-trades utility player.

OLB Victor Ochi

Might Ochi be the next undrafted rookie to make the Ravens? Ochi set a Stony Brook record with 32 1/2 sacks and ranked second in FCS (formerly Division I-AA) football with 13 sacks last season. With Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil both coming off injuries, Ochi should get plenty of reps in camp. He also is out to prove the doubters wrong after going undrafted; draft expert Mel Kiper predicted he could go as early as the third round.

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Former Ravens defensive lineman suspended for PED violation

Former Ravens defensive lineman suspended for PED violation

Former Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones has been suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2016 for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances, his new team, the Indianapolis Colts, announced in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Jones, who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Ravens, played three seasons in Baltimore. He played his first season in Indianapolis in 2014. His 2015 ended before it began after he suffered an ankle injury in a preseason game against the Rams. 

In three years in Baltimore, Jones appeared in 44 games and registered 8.5 sacks and 120 combined tackles. In his most recent healthy season, 2014 with the Colts, he played in nine games and registered 23 combined tackles and 1.5 sacks.

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Ravens under the microscope: Best case, worst case for Jimmy Smith in 2016

Ravens under the microscope: Best case, worst case for Jimmy Smith in 2016

As we countdown to training camp, Clifton Brown and Bo Smolka will take turns putting 25 key Ravens under the microscope. They’ll speculate on a best-case, worst-case scenario for at least one player every day.

They’ll begin with players looking to carve out a role or roster spot, then wrap up with the most important players, concluding with quarterback Joe Flacco on July 25.

UNDER THE MICROSCOPE - Jimmy Smith, sixth-year cornerback

Best-case scenario:

Smith is not only the Ravens’ best corner, but one of the top 10 corners in the NFL.

Why it could happen:

Before his Lisfranc injury in 2014, Smith was playing the best football of his career and winning matchups against premier wide receivers like Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall.  Smith has the tools to be a top corner - the length to deal with bigger receivers, and the confidence to be left alone on an island. After having screws removed from his foot this offseason, the lingering effects of his injury should finally be over. Even last season, when he was clearly not 100 percent, Smith led the Ravens with three picks. He turns 28 years old later this month (July 26) – still young enough to play at a high level, with experience to accompany his talent.

Worst-case scenario:

Smith’s game doesn’t distinguish himself as a shutdown corner, and the Ravens’ secondary gives up too many big plays.

Why it could happen:

Smith will see a slew of top receivers in 2016, including Antonio Brown (twice), A. J. Green (twice), Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr., and Amari Cooper, who beat Smith for a 68-yard touchdown last season. We’ll find out if Smith is back to where he was in 2014, because he’s going to be tested.

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