PITTSBURGH - Even with his surgically repaired right knee still on the mend, the Pittsburgh Steelers are finding ways to use rookie offensive guard David DeCastro.
"He's been doing all the extra things all the young guys are doing," joked offensive coordinator Todd Haley. "Some of that includes filling the refrigerator for the offensive line room, and the chip bag and the snack box and all those things."
All kidding aside, the Steelers are pleased with the progress their first-round pick has made since injuring his knee in a preseason win over Buffalo on Aug. 25. DeCastro is walking without a brace and has been cleared to work on the stationary bike, though it's still uncertain when he'll make it back to the practice field.
"I don't have any pain, so I'm just working hard to try to get back," DeCastro said.
Pittsburgh placed DeCastro on the newly created Injured Reserve-Return list last month, meaning the team could place him back on the 53-man roster at some point in the second half of the season.
There's little doubt the Steelers could use the former All-American at Stanford to give the offensive line a little thump in the running game. The Steelers (1-2) rank last in the NFL, averaging 2.6 yards a carry.
"It's tough for him to lose his first year in the NFL," guard Willie Colon said. "He was a projected starter coming out, so it's been tough. Obviously, to go down like that, it has to be disappointing. But he's a head-strong kid. He knows what it takes to get back on the horse as soon as possible."
The reserved DeCastro has been a fixture in position meetings while undergoing rehab. That work ethic has quickly won over some of DeCastro's veteran teammates.
"He watches practice and goes through walkthroughs," Colon said. "So, that's a good sign that he's here all the time. And he's still part of the family, so we want to keep him close."
The Steelers figured they made one of the steals of the draft when they grabbed DeCastro with the 24th overall pick in April. He's done little during his downtime to raise any concerns about his commitment to the game.
"The key thing when you have an injury is that you stay in the mix mentally," Haley said. "He is all football and this is what he does. That was never really a worry to many of us."
While DeCastro will have to wait awhile longer to make his season debut, the Steelers believe the rushing attack will get a needed boost on Sunday against the Eagles (3-1) on starter Rashard Mendenhall returns.
The fifth-year running back hasn't played since tearing the ACL in his right knee on New Year's Day but was a full participant yet again in practice on Wednesday and is expected to be in uniform as the Steelers try to avoid their first 1-3 start in six years.
Pittsburgh is 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game, averaging a paltry 65 yards a game. If Mendenhall can be effective it should give the Steelers enough balance to take some of the pressure off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has been brilliant over the first three games.
And while Pittsburgh would love to have DeCastro on the field sooner rather than later, they're in no rush to bring him back. The Steelers have him penciled in as the starting right guard for the next decade. If the next decade doesn't start for a few weeks, that's fine.
"He's no longer a rookie mentally," Haley said. "The key for him is taking it day by day and getting himself healthy first and foremost."