The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t expect running back Rashard Mendenhall (knee) to return until well into the season. Yet he practiced Monday, and coach Mike Tomlin isn’t ruling him out of the season opener Sunday in Denver.
Mendenhall tore an ACL in the final 2011 regular-season game.
Isaac Redman, expected to fill in for Mendenhall, is still battling an ankle injury, and his status is uncertain.
Jonathan Dwyer is healthy and coming off a strong preseason, prompting Tomlin to say, “There’s a certain level of growth and maturity … (and) he is in better physical condition than he has been in the past.”
• Tomlin made it official by ruling out safety Ryan Clark from playing in high-altitude Denver because of his sickle cell trait. Ryan Mundy will replace Clark, who also didn’t play in the wild-card playoff game there in January. Clark lost 35 pounds, his spleen and his gall bladder after a mid-season 2007 game in Denver. Clark is launching an initiative with UPMC (www.CureLeague.org) designed to raise money for sickle cell research and, ultimately, find a cure.
• Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning, despite missing last season with a neck injury and changing uniforms from the Colts to the Broncos. Much of Manning’s signature pre-snap ritual — such as his finger pointing — is the same as it was in Indianapolis, according to Tomlin. Tomlin calls Manning “a ridiculous competitor” with “ridiculous football character,” while adding, “Guys like him make their reputations in rising up in moments like this.”
• Tomlin wouldn’t confirm that wide receiver Mike Wallace will start after practicing only one day, but it is evident that Wallace will get considerable playing time despite his recently concluded holdout. Tomlin was satisfied with the level of conditioning Wallace showed Monday despite missing training camp and all of the spring workouts. Tomlin said, “I didn’t see anything that would lead me to believe that (starting) is not a possibility.”
• Tomlin said cornerback Keenan Lewis has “earned a spot,” though he wouldn’t confirm Lewis has secured the cornerback’s job left vacant when William Gay wasn’t brought back. Tomlin also praised nickel back Cortez Allen, saying he has “grown by leaps and bounds.”
— Alan Robinson