Steelers' running game rests on Redman

June, 16, 2012
6/16/12
10:30
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Isaac Redman spent his first training camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers trying to get Mike Tomlin to remember his name. These days, Redman's challenge has far more pressing consequences.

The success of the Steelers' running game and hopes of a well-rounded offense fall on an unproven and undrafted backup who was playing the likes of Elizabeth City State in Division II football four years ago.

As Pittsburgh begins its mandatory minicamp Tuesday, Redman is expected to take snaps with the starting offense as he's done in previous weeks. He's earned the right to fill Rashard Mendenhall's spot after he gained 121 yards against the Broncos in the playoffs.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh's Isaac Redman
Chris Humphreys/US PRESSWIREIsaac Redman rushed for 121 yards in a playoff loss against the Broncos last season.
But Redman has to prove his durability. In 36 career games (including playoffs), he's had double-digit carries in four.

"Ever since I've been here, I've been doubted by everybody except the players and coaches," Redman told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "They understand the type of player I am, and it's why they've kept me around. They see something in me, so I never doubt myself. I'm ready to get out there. Hopefully, I'll surprise everybody."

Confidence has never been a problem for a player who went from Bowie State in 2008 to the Steelers' practice squad in 2009 to becoming the team's specialized backup the past two seasons.

Pittsburgh has shown a great amount of faith in Redman after not signing a veteran backup (like Brandon Jacobs, Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant or Mike Tolbert) and not drafting a running back until the fifth round. The Steelers' actions say they believe Redman can replace Mendenhall, the team's leading rusher for the last three years. Mendenhall is expected to be sidelined at the start the season because of ACL surgery in January.

The pressure is on Redman to produce because Pittsburgh doesn't have a safety net. The other running backs have less experience than Redman. Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay and Baron Batch have a combined 35 career carries in the NFL.

So, why are the Steelers trusting Redman so much? Although Mendenhall has the first-round pedigree, Redman's between-the-tackles running style gives the offense a better shot at getting back to Steeler football.

Since the start of 2010, Mendenhall averaged 3.9 yards per carry, the fifth worst among the 28 players with at least 300 rushes in the last two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Mendenhall also had the second fewest yards after contact (1.6 per carry) among running backs with at least 200 carries.

Redman has shown flashes of being more physical and explosive in his two-year career, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and scoring five touchdowns.

"Coming into the season there's always some type of nerves," Redman said. "But once you step on the field and start performing, all the nerves just go away and you just try to perform at a high level, which I'm sure I'm going to do."

Redman won't be the only change in Pittsburgh's backfield. It was revealed last month that the team is converting tight end David Johnson into a full-time fullback. There's also been speculation that offensive coordinator Todd Haley will put more emphasis on the run than his predecessor, Bruce Arians.

Although Redman wouldn't say how much the Steelers plan to run this season, he knows who will be carrying the ball with Mendenhall out.

“Rashard and I really haven’t spoken that much,” Redman said. “We both understand that he’s working as hard as he can to get back. I’m working hard to lead this team until he gets back to 100 percent, and I don’t doubt that I can.”

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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