Tomlin demotes Mendenhall to third string, lists Wallace as co-starter
Mike Tomlin still isn’t done shuffling the Steelers’ running backs.
Jonathan Dwyer, one of four backs who were benched only to be reinserted during a fumble-filled loss in Cleveland, will start Sunday in Baltimore and get the majority of the work, Tomlin said Tuesday.
Tomlin also sent not-subtle messages to running back Rashard Mendenhall and wide receiver Mike Wallace by demoting them on the depth chart. Mendenhall is now the No. 3 back, behind Dwyer and Redman, and Wallace is a co-starter with Emmanuel Sanders.
While Tomlin didn’t say whether the constant rotating of backs in Cleveland might have contributed to the inability of any of them to run the ball effectively — none gained more than 19 yards — he apparently wants to stay with a primary back for now.
Dwyer ran for 122 yards against the Bengals and 107 yards against the Redskins, but a quad strain kept him out the following week as Redman ran for 147 yards against the Giants. In the three games since, no back has gained more than the 56 yards Dwyer produced against the Chiefs.
“He’s been consistently the most productive guy,” Tomlin said of Dwyer, who has a team-leading 429 yards and a 4.4 average per carry. “I think we’ve got a large enough body of work to be able to identify that at this point. … Over the course of the last several weeks, it’s obvious that he, one, is healthy and, two, is the most productive of the group.”
Unless there is a further shuffling, Mendenhall — in the final year of his contract — might not regain the starting job he held for three seasons before badly injuring his right knee against Cleveland on Jan. 1.
Mendenhall missed the first three games this season while recovering then, after running for 68 yards and catching a touchdown pass against the Eagles on Oct. 7, he injured an Achilles against Tennessee on Oct. 11. After missing most of the next five games, he has only 45 yards on 21 carries in his last three games.
Mendenhall fumbled twice on four carries as the Steelers lost five fumbles against the Browns and, Tomlin emphasized, “Fumbling is unacceptable.”
Tomlin apparently was just as displeased with Wallace, who managed only a single catch Sunday as quarterback Charlie Batch targeted Sanders and tight end Heath Miller almost exclusively.
“Mike was frustrated and rightfully so,” Tomlin said. “He is not producing in the manner in which he’d like to and which he’d like him to. It’s the function of a lot of things. He’s just committed to continuing to work and we’re committed to that as well.”
Wallace has made only seven catches in three games since Antonio Brown sustained a high-ankle sprain. Brown will practice this week and is expected to play Sunday, which might create more favorable matchups for Wallace
Wallace, also in the final season of his contract, has 47 catches for a 12.2 yards per catch average and six touchdowns. At this stage last season, he had 55 catches for a 17.1 average and six touchdowns.
Earlier this season, Wallace said he couldn’t worry about his next contract because it would be too distracting.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected].