Following a two-game losing streak, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin seemed to feel it necessary to shake things up a bit, involving two high profile players being demoted.
For starters, running back Rashard Mendenhall—who had been the team’s leading back for the past three seasons—has been demoted to third string, behind Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman.
Mendenhall, the team’s first round pick from 2008, suffered a torn ACL in the regular season finale last season and missed the first three games this year because of it. In his second game back, however he aggravated his Achilles tendon, which caused him to miss another four games.
He has been ineffective since his second return from injury this season, though in limited carries. This past game, he fumbled the football twice, losing it once. Both Dwyer and Redman also fumbled once in the same game.
With Mendenhall’s demotion, Tomlin named Dwyer the team’s starter going forward. He has been the team’s most effective runner despite not having gotten into the end zone. He has 429 yards on 98 carries this season, good for 4.4 yards per carry. He also has 11 receptions for 71 yards.
Dwyer earned the first two starts of his career this season while both Mendenhall and Redman were battling injuries. In those two games, he rushed for a combined 229 yards on 34 carries, coming in at a robust 6.7 yards per carry. He injured his groin near the end of that second game, however.
The other big lineup move pertains to the wide receivers and Mike Wallace. With Antonio Brown expected to return to the lineup this week after missing the past three games with a high ankle sprain, Tomlin decided to do a bit of tinkering with the starting lineup.
The team’s website now lists Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders as co-starters at one wide receiver position opposite Brown. At his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Tomlin said that the situation will dictate who starts when. Sanders has 8 receptions for 157 yards in the last two games starting opposite Wallace.
Perhaps not coincidentally, both Mendenhall and Wallace are going to be unrestricted free agents following this season. Although the players’ ineffectiveness is the deciding factor in these moves, it is possible that the team’s desire to phase these players out and learn to play without them is also a motivating factor in these personnel decisions.
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