It was a commonly held assumption that Rashard Mendenhall would start the season on the PUP list. So common, in fact, that well-connected Pittsburgh beat writers were told that Mendenhall wouldn’t be removed from said list prior to the Steelers’ opener, and therefore he wouldn’t be available to the team until Week 7.

And that probably would have happened in a perfectly peachy Utopian world, one in which RPatz and KStew are granted eternal bliss, and we can freely eat delicious fried chicken without fearing political backlash. Ahhh, simpler times.

But a funny thing happened once Mendenhall wasn’t the only injured running back on a team that prides itself on its ability to run and hurt you. Suddenly, he’s just fine.

As Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first reported, the Steelers removed Mendenhall from the PUP list today, and they did that after they repeatedly said he wouldn’t be available to start the season. Bouchette, who’s been covering the team for over 25 years, was just as confused as the rest of us:

All along the Steelers said they did not expect Rashard Mendenhall to come off PUP before the start of the regular season. They took him off today with three preseason games left. 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.

Maybe his health improved drastically, even though he’s only seven months removed from an ACL tear, an injury that typically takes a year to fully heal. Color me with your broad pessimistic/cynical old man brush if you will, but I’m not buying it.

Isaac Redman was set to be the workhorse with Mendenhall out, but when the replacement workhorse promptly gets a busted hoof of his own, it’s time to wake the old stud from his slumber and see if he can gimp around enough to be effective. Throw in an injury to Jonathan Dwyer — the backup’s backup who sprained his shoulder last week  — and the urgency to rush Mendenhall back was likely heightened.

The injuries to Redman and Dwyer aren’t serious, but the scare was more than enough to show the Steelers the frailties of their RB depth chart. If every player on that chart is various shades of black and blue, then in theory having the starter back at, say, 80 percent is better than having to roll with the backup who’s at the same strength.

Desperation is a hell of a drug.