Now the question becomes: When will Mendehall be ready? (Getty Images)

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has been saying for some time now that running back Rashard Mendenhall, who tore his ACL late last season, would likely begin 2012 on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list. So it was with some surprise that the team announced Friday that Mendenhall and teammate Casey Hampton, who was also recovering from offseason ACL surgery, had been removed from the PUP list.

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There was no official explanation for the moves, although Hampton has said previously that he expected to be healthy for the regular-season opener. Mendenhall's immediate future was less certain, however, but the recent spate of injuries at running back may have precipitated the decision.

(And even that theory seems far-fetched. If Mendenhall isn't close to 100 percent all rushing him back onto the field will do is hasten his return to the training room.)

Backup John Clay landed was waived after suffering a quadriceps injury, and Mendenhall's replacement Isaac Redman is battling a groin injury. Jonathan Dwyer, meanwhile, returned to practice Thursday after suffering a shoulder injury in the Steelers' first preseason game.

As's Josh Alper notes, neither Mendenhall nor Hampton are eligible to be placed on the regular-season PUP list which means that they'll count against the 53-man roster. And according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Mark Kaboly, Mendenhall isn't eligible for the new eight-week injured reserve for a designated "marquee player" because "That rule is for a player who was initially injured after reporting to training camp."

Then there's the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette, who wonders if activating Mendenhall is a "desperation move" by the Steelers.

"All along the Steelers said they did not expect Mendenhall to come off PUP before the start of the regular season," he tweeted Friday after the announcement. … "I was told this week they would not rush him because they did not want to jeopardize his health and his future. It's funny what can happen when injuries thin a position as it has done for the Steelers at running back."

Mendenhall won't suit up against the Colts for Saturday's game, but it'll be interesting to see how he's used for the remainder of the preseason. Conventional wisdom had him rehabbing until Week 6. That timetable, it seems, has been accelerated.

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