PITTSBURGH (AP)—The starting defense the Steelers thought they were getting when the season opened finally practiced together on Monday.
There’s still no telling if the same 11 guys will suit up on Sunday against Philadelphia.
Injured stars James Harrison and Troy Polamalu were on the field as the Steelers (1-2) returned from their bye week. While Harrison remained vague about the chances his surgically repaired left knee will be ready to play for the first time this season, Polamalu is optimistic his strained right calf is no longer an issue.
The perennial Pro Bowl safety says he felt “pretty good” and was grateful to see a slew of familiar faces on the practice field, Harrison’s included.
“We’ll see what happens, but it’s been a while since we’ve all been on the field together,” Polamalu said. “There are some other new faces out there who have been permanent starters, so it’s all about how well 11 guys mesh on our defense.”
The Steelers have struggled to generate much of a pass rush and the secondary had trouble in a 34-31 loss in Oakland on Sept. 23. Having a pair of healthy former Defensive Player of the Years would certainly help.
“We just have to get ourselves on the winning side of things, because nobody cares about losing teams,” Polamalu said. “We just haven’t been executing that well, (so) whatever the call is that coach (Dick) LeBeau has made, we just haven’t been executing it that well at all. It really has nothing to do with the scheme of things. It’s just that we’re not executing and not performing well.”
Harrison hasn’t played since a Wild Card loss to Denver in January. He struggled staying healthy during the offseason and underwent a minor procedure on Aug. 15. He returned to full practice last Tuesday but was not there on Wednesday, though he declined to label it a setback.
If anything, Harrison wants to get in a game just so he’ll stop having to answer questions about his condition.
“The constant questions, of course, just nags and irks on you,” said Harrison, who won’t have a better idea about his status until Friday.
The Steelers could also get a boost to the running game with the possible return of Rashard Mendenhall, who hasn’t played since tearing the ACL in his right knee against Cleveland on New Year’s Day. He’s practiced regularly over the last three weeks and a comeback is imminent.
“We’re gauging it, me and the coaches, and when we get to the point where we all think I can play then I’ll get back in there,” Mendenhall said.