Rashard Mendenhall might play vs. Oakland Raiders

PITTSBURGH -- Rashard Mendenhall's surgically repaired right knee feels so good, the Pittsburgh Steelers running back isn't even wearing so much as an ace bandage over it when he practices.

"I put a sleeve on for a day and didn't like it," Mendenhall said. "I feel better without anything on it."

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The 25-year-old hardly looked like he needed one on Wednesday. Asked by coach Mike Tomlin to knock Mendenhall around a little bit, Pittsburgh's defense obliged by getting a couple of shots in during their one padded workout of the week.

How it'd feel?

"It was cool," Mendenhall said. "I was all good."

And -- the Steelers hope -- their running game will be too.

Though it's still uncertain whether Mendenhall will be ready to play on Sunday when the Steelers (1-1) travel to Oakland (0-2), there's little doubt he's inching closer to a return barely nine months removed from surgery to repair the ACL he tore in last year's regular season finale against Cleveland.

"He looked fast," offensive guard Willie Colon said. "Everything I saw was a good sign."

Pittsburgh could certainly use a healthy Mendenhall to help take some of the pressure off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The Steelers rank 30th in the NFL in rushing with just 141 yards through the season's first two weeks and are averaging an anemic 2.6 yards per carry. Nearly 20 percent of their 54 running plays have gone for negative yardage, though Roethlisberger and one of the league's top receiving corps has helped Pittsburgh control the ball for more than 35 minutes a game behind some third-down heroics.

Mendenhall's presence means they might not have to.

He narrowly missed his third straight 1,000-yard season last fall due in part to a slightly decreased workload and an awkward step against Cleveland on New Year's Day when he tried to plant while trying to cut back near the sideline only to have his knee buckle.

Asked if he believes he can play on Sunday against the Raiders, Mendenhall shrugged his shoulders and said "possibly," while remaining vague about what exactly it will take for him to get cleared.

"When there's a green light," Mendenhall said, "that's what I'm preparing for."

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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