Writing on the wall for Byron Leftwich and Rashard Mendenhall?

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to rationally think to yourself that both Rashard Mendenhall and Byron Leftwich may very well be looking at their last season in a Steelers uniform.

Given the production of both players this season, or lack thereof, the lack of playing time post injury, and the recent updates by Mike Tomlin in his Tuesday press conference this week, things aren’t exactly looking up for these guys. That’s not to say that things can’t or won’t change, because we know in the NFL that can happen on any given week. However, if situations don’t arise where these two see the field, the last game of the season, whenever that is for the Steelers could spell the end for the two veterans.

According to Mike Tomlin: Byron Leftwich might not get an opportunity because the team already has two  healthy quarterbacks. Charlie is their guy and they’ll prepare and plan with that in mind (as well as getting Ben ready). They will continue to work with Byron and get him reps when they can but there just won’t be many opportunities for Byron to prove he’s healthy even though he is.

On Wednesday Tomlin described Ben’s day as positive, and barring any setbacks he looks to be the starter for Sunday against the Chargers. That mean Charlie Batch will be ready as #2 and Leftwich will be deactivated.

On the topic of Mendenhall, “Rashard will get an opportunity to redeem himself at some point along this journey most likely. He’s not being given one right now because he’s a feature type running back and doesn’t offer contributions in any way beyond that.”

It’s a numbers game in the NFL, the Steelers have carried 8 Offensive Lineman this season at times, and they may need to carry an extra Defensive Back at some point with Ike Taylor out for at least 2 weeks. Since both Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman have shown to be capable runners in the recent weeks, they are the starters for at least the foreseeable future.

For me personally I still say that Mendenhall’s fumbling and lack of production when he has been healthy plays a part in it; again that’s my thought just based on how Tomlin has handled other players this year who haven’t produced. Running Backs’ Coach Kirby Wilson still believes in Mendenhall as a “complete back” but ultimately it’s Tomlin’s call.  He’s preached going with the hot hand and vowed to sit anyone who constantly was at fault for penalties on special teams. In this case I think that extends to a general lack of production as well.

We can be as politically correct as we want, and Tomlin will never verbally discredit his players in a harsh way to the media, but the fact is neither has played well injuries or no injuries. They’re replacements have done a good enough job to keep their position on game day.

The old school mentality was that you didn’t lose your job due to injury. In today’s NFL that’s not the case. If you were a top performer before getting hurt you may still get a chance to play when you’re healthy but that doesn’t mean you get your starting job back. While there are always exceptions to the rule, such as is the case with Ben Roethlisberger or other high profile players, everyone else is subject to how the season plays out, fair or not.

The Steelers have done things in the offseason that have surprised us and gone against the grain of conventional fan thinking, so there’s always a chance that they may want both Mendenhall and Leftwich back. This season is a bit different though, as younger players are starting to develop and play the way to the level of a winning organization like the Steelers.

Certainly we shouldn’t expect Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer, and Isaac Redman all back next year but it is reasonable to expect that two will return. Both Dwyer and ‘Red have shown enough this season to warrant serious long term starting consideration. Dwyer is the man for the rest of the year as far as Tomlin will let on but Redman will continue to play a similar that he did last Sunday against the Ravens. Unless injuries strike this unit I wouldn’t be shocked if Mendenhall doesn’t see the field for the rest of the regular season.

Both Dwyer and Redman will be restricted free agents next season, so the Steelers will have the right to match any offer they receive, giving them a good chance to keep one or both if they choose. Rashard Mendenhall is an unrestricted free agent, and will probably look to latch on with another team for more playing time if things continue down the current path for this season.

As far as Leftwich goes, this is one is pretty cut and dry for me. The Steelers have been playing with fire for years, keeping older backups or young players who clearly are not eventual starting material. For my money, Charlie Batch basically has a lifetime pass to be at least a 3rd string Quarterback in Pittsburgh. How much longer he wants to play is the real question.

However, after the events this season, Mike Tomlin and the Rooney’s have to realize that keeping a guy like Brian Hoyer is a much better fit for the future than Byron Leftwich is. Even though Hoyer’s contract will expire at the end of the year, he’s got a great shot at becoming Ben’s #1 backup for 2013 and beyond if the team wants to keep him around.

Times are changing in Pittsburgh,  long with the departure of more older veterans in 2013, these two may find themselves victims as well whether it’s fair or not.

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