In a conference call on Wednesday, Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin updated the statuses of four key players.
Safety Ryan Clark will not play because of a blood disorder that becomes dangerous in high altitude.
Linebacker James Harrison, a Pro Bowler in each of the last five years, practiced for the first time in the preseason on Monday. Harrison has been out of action since undergoing knee surgery on Aug. 15th.
“We’re just taking it day by day and his availability is going to be based on how he feels following some cumulative work over the course of the week,” Tomlin said. “I think Monday’s work was a positive day, but we’ll continue to watch and see where it takes us.”
“I’m coming along,” added Harrison in a separate call.
Similar to Harrison, it seems to be a wait-and-see situation for the running back Rashard Mendenhall.
Mendenhall has led the team in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in each of the past three seasons. The 5th-year back injured his knee in the team’s final regular season game in 2011. On Monday, he hit the practice field for the first time since the injury. Tomlin called Mendenhall’s workout “favorable” and said that “his knee responded positively to the work.”
Wide receiver Mike Wallace was a third Steeler to practice for the first time in 2012 on Monday. As opposed to Harrison and Mendenhall, who are recovering from injuries, Wallace was returning from an offseason holdout. According to Tomlin, the role that Wallace plays on Sunday night will depend on how he does in practice throughout the remainder of the week.
“We’re going to rev up the environment as we prepare and get closer to game action,” Tomlin said. “I think he’ll show us continually over the course of the week his overall readiness.”
As Tomlin will re-evaluate the situations of those three players later in the week, he’s focused now on preparing for a Denver Broncos team that is very different from the one that ended Pittsburgh’s 2011 campaign.
“We acknowledge that they’re different of course, not only with (quarterback) Peyton (Manning) but defensively with (Defensive Coordinator Jack) Coach Del Rio, who is very good at what he does,” Tomlin said. “We better remain focused on the challenges that are in front of us this weekend as opposed to looking back at something that happened months ago.”
Specifically regarding Manning, Tomlin said he and the Steelers are familiar with the four-time NFL MVP after seeing him “in some significant games over the years in Pittsburgh.”
Steelers linebacker James Harrison doesn’t believe that rust will be a factor in Manning’s play.
“Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning,” he said. “He’s doing the same thing now. I see no difference.”
Tomlin also addressed the challenge of facing running back Willis McGahee, who the Steelers have seen plenty of in the recent past. The 10th-year pro and interim team captain spent four years in the AFC North with the Baltimore Ravens, before joining Denver in 2011.
“McGahee is a stud of a runner,” Tomlin said. “That’s a guy that we’re familiar with and we understand what it means when you have to step in the stadium and play a guy like him. We respect him.”
But even with a proven rushing attack led by a 1,000-yard rusher from 2011, the emphasis for the Steelers defense as they prepare for the Sunday night remains on the quarterback.
“I’m just focusing on what we need to do to get prepared for Peyton,” Tomlin said.