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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Ravens assign jersey numbers, Ronnie Stanley to wear No. 79

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Ravens assign jersey numbers, Ronnie Stanley to wear No. 79

OWINGS MILLS -- For football jersey lovers, the Ravens have assigned numbers to their 11 draft picks. They are as follows:

6 – WR Keenan Reynolds

43 – CB Tavon Young

48 – RB Kenneth Dixon

49 – CB Maurice Canady

51 – OLB Kamalei Correa

72 – OT Alex Lewis

79 – OT Ronnie Stanley

81 – WR Chris Moore

91 – OLB Matt Judon

92 – DE Bronson Kaufusi

Correa will be wearing the number worn by former Ravens inside linebacker Daryl Smith, who signed with the Buccaneers this offseason. Kaufusi will wear the number once worn by former Ravens Pro Bowl tackle Haloti Ngata.

Four more draft picks sign with Ravens, raising total to six

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Four more draft picks sign with Ravens, raising total to six

OWINGS MILLS -- The Ravens announced the signing of four more draft picks Friday -- OLB Kamalei Correa, DT Willie Henry, OT Alex Lewis, and WR Chris Moore.

That meant six of the 11 Ravens’ 11 draft picks were under contract at the start of Friday’s two-day rookie minicamp. OLB Matt Judon and RB Kenneth Dixon had already signed.

Correa was drafted in the second round, the first of three players the Ravens targeted to improve their pass rush. Lewis, a fourth-rounder, is expected to compete for a backup spot at either tackle position. Moore is a deep threat wide receiver who has a chance to earn immediate playing time. Henry is a run-stopping defensive lineman who has a chance to be part of the defensive tackle rotation.

First-round pick, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, still had not signed as of early Friday afternoon. However, first-round signings traditionally take the longest.

The Ravens also announced the signing of 11 undrafted free agents:

G Jarell Broxton, Baylor

DT Travon Coley, Florida Atlantic

C Anthony Fabiano, Harvard

ILB  Cavellis Luckett, Middle Tennessee St.  

K Will Lutz, Georgia St.

OT Stephane Nembot, Colorado

OLB Victor Ochi, Stony Brook

OLB Mario Ojemudia, Michigan

ILB Patrick Onwuasor, Portland St.

DT Michael Pierce, Samford

C Matt Skura, Duke

Who will emerge from Ravens' crowded stable of running backs?

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Who will emerge from Ravens' crowded stable of running backs?

In the past month, the Ravens added two more pieces to an already crowded backfield, signing veteran Trent Richardson and then drafting Kenneth Dixon out of Louisiana Tech in the fourth round. That gives the Ravens six running backs at a position in which the team usually carries only three, or rarely four. Something's got to give here.

Richardson and Dixon join Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Terrance West in a backfield competition that should be intense through OTAs and training camp. (This doesn't include fullback Kyle Juszczyk.)

And the Ravens just cut Terrence McGee, who was a long shot to make the roster after spending time on the practice squad last season. 

On the surface, Forsett, Allen and Dixon would appear to be the safest bets to make the team. Forsett is coming off a broken arm, and his cap figure of $3.7 million is higher than that of Allen, Taliaferro, Dixon and Richardson combined. Would the Ravens consider cutting Forsett, which would mean about $2.3 million in cap savings? Don't bet on it. Ozzie Newsome has praised Forsett as a mentor to younger backs, and although Forsett turns 31 in October, he hasn't had the wear and tear of other backs his age.

Allen showed enough last year after Forsett's injury to enter camp as the No. 2 back. He ranked second on the team with 137 carries for 514 yards and scored one touchdown rushing, and also had 45 catches for 353 yards and two touchdowns receiving.

Dixon, as a fourth-round pick, is safe as well. The Ravens rarely cut draft picks, and it would be a shock if they cut a fourth-rounder. They certainly want to see what they have in Dixon (5-10, 215), who totaled 87 touchdowns in his collegiate career. That, incidentally, is one shy of the NCAA FBS record held by Dixon's new teammate, former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds.

So with Forsett, Allen and Dixon seemingly safe -- although don't expect coach John Harbaugh to declare that --  where does that leave everyone else?

No one in this group has a better pedigree than Richardson, a former No. 3 overall pick out of Alabama. But Richardson has had a disappointing four-year pro career and was out of football last season. He has reportedly dropped weight and is motivated to play. The Ravens essentially get a low-risk, low-cost look at a player with huge upside but huge questions.

Taliaferro might have the most to prove. Like Dixon, Taliaferro was a fourth-round pick but has never been able to stay healthy. He has missed half of the Ravens 32 games over his two-year career, and very well could find himself on the outside looking in this fall, healthy or not. The odds would appear even longer for West, the Baltimore product.

Granted, a lot can happen between now and when that roster is set. Watching this backfield competition unfold should be one of the top storylines of the summer.