LATROBE – The “Refugee Runners” have been carrying the load in the hot sun this last week of training camp, but they received some good news late this week when A.) Isaac Redman learned he’ll return to the practice field early next week, and B.) Rashard Mendenhall was activated from the PUP list Friday along with nose tackle Casey Hampton.
Mendenhall could be available for duty when the team resumes preseason workouts next week at their South Side practice facility.
Mendenhall, of course, tore an ACL in the regular-season finale seven months ago. He’s been optimistic about an early return, but most in the organization, including general manager Kevin Colbert, predicted Mendenhall would remain on the PUP list for at least the six-week minimum.
However, Mendenhall’s rapid progress allowed the team to activate him prior to the end of the preseason, meaning he can sit a few weeks in September and rejoin the team before the six-week PUP minimum.
This means Mendenhall can practice lightly. The same can be said for Hampton, although Colbert said last February that Hampton wouldn’t need as much time as Mendenhall because he plays nose tackle and not running back.
If Max Starks’s first padded practice after his activation from the PUP list is any indication, Mendenhall and Hampton will be able to practice very lightly until they’re back into the flow.
Starks took only six scrimmage reps with the Steelers’ scout team Friday against the first-team defense. Afterward he said he felt fine.
“I felt good – for the speed I was going,” Starks said of the half-speed practice.
“It was half-speed at best,” Starks said with a laugh. “Everything at that speed was fine.”
Starks explained his thinking going into the workout.
“I didn’t want to take any prep from guys who are going to play (Sunday),” he said. “That’s why I said I’ll just take the first two of our scout-team looks for our defense just to get some type of work in, because I don’t want to take away from any of the guys, and I would actually give a couple guys a blow by filling in for them.”
Redman and punter Jeremy Kapinos (back) missed the practice and likely won’t play Sunday night, even though Tomlin said everyone is available.
Chris Rainey averaged 6.7 yards in his three punt returns last week, while Marquis Maze returned one kickoff for 28 yards. Both will continue returning kicks Sunday.
“We’re going to give Chris Rainey the bulk of the work early on,” Tomlin said. “David Gilreath, we want to see what he’s capable of. He missed the last game due to injury so it’s important to see what he’s capable of. Marquis Maze represented himself rather well when given the opportunity last game.”
Rookie Drew Butler punted six times last week with a gross average of 49.7 and a net average of 44.3. Kapinos is almost fully recovered from a back injury.
“He’s working his way back but we’re going to let that work dictate his availability,” Tomlin said. “He’s coming back to us. He might even kick a football (Friday).”
Just one more series of practice notes on the final day of open workouts: Toney Clemons dropped a pass on the last play of 7-on-7 that produced some three groans shy of a load; Weslye Saunders beat Brandon Johnson down the sideline by about 10 yards, and dropped a sure TD pass from Jerrod Johnson; and the diminutive Marquis Maze jumped way up -- which for him is about shoulder-pad level with Lawrence Timmons -- and Timmons belted him. Maze dropped the ball. Kind of sums up the depth at receiver and tight end this camp.