Pittsburgh Steelers: Isaac Redman

Steelers won't be running on empty

September, 5, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- The difference a year makes at running back is striking.

Consider the Pittsburgh Steelers went into their season opener last year with Isaac Redman, Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling as their top three running backs.

[+] Enlarge Le'Veon Bell
AP Photo/Michael PerezLe'Veon Bell's involvement in the Steelers' passing game should make him the team's busiest running back.
None is in the NFL right now, though injuries are a factor there.

The Steelers' top three running backs going into the season opener Sunday are Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer.

The trio, in addition to being a major upgrade in talent, offers power, speed and versatility.

The biggest question -- aside from the judgment exhibited by the top two backs a couple of weeks ago -- is whether there will be enough work to keep everyone happy.

"There's never enough touches," Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said with a grin, "but if we stay on the field there will be enough touches [to go around]."

A couple of factoids dug up by my colleagues at ESPN Stats & Information could indicate how the roles of the running backs will evolve this season.

  • Bell caught 45 passes in 13 games last season, and his 65 targets were the most times quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has ever thrown to a running back in a season. Bell, who missed the first three games last season because of a sprained foot, will get the most touches this season among the running backs because a significant amount of them will come in the passing game.
  • Blount averaged 2.16 yards after contact last season, third-highest in the NFL. The 6-foot, 250-pounder gives the Steelers something they haven't had since Jerome Bettis: a big, punishing back with good feet who can help the Steelers grind out the clock when they have a lead in the fourth quarter.
  • Archer is the X-factor of the trio because of his speed and versatility. The Steelers will lean heavily on Bell and Blount when running the ball and try to get Archer the ball in space.

One thing that is certain to happen no matter how the situation at running back plays out: The Steelers stop the decline in the ground game that has taken place the last three seasons.

Since piling up 120.3 rushing yards per game in 2010, the Steelers have averaged 118.9, 96.1 and 86.4 rushing yards per game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"I'm excited about where we are with the guys in the backfield," Haley said. "Le'Veon's 100 percent going into it this year, he's got almost a full year of experience playing in the league, which is huge. LeGarrette Blount is a proven commodity, a big back at the position. I'm excited to see Dri Archer when he's getting his backfield snaps."
PITTSBURGH – Isaac Redman, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in four-plus seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, should not have any regrets after announcing his retirement on Friday.

Redman, who is only 29, has to walk away from the game because of a career-ending spinal injury. No one can question whether Redman left anything on the field.

“Last season I tried my best to play through a neck injury but I just wasn’t myself on the field,” Redman wrote on his Twitter account. “After being released I sent to Cali to see Dr. Watkins [doctor who did Peyton Manning’s neck surgery]. After 2 MRIs and a CAT-scan he then told me I had suffered a career-ending injury to my spinal cord. Various teams have called but as you can see I was unable to go. I would like to thank all my fans for the tremendous support throughout my career.”

Redman spent most of his rookie season on the Steelers’ practice squad before making the team in 2010 and playing four seasons in Pittsburgh. He opened 2013 as a starter because of an injury to Le’Veon Bell but rushed for just 12 yards on 10 carries.

The Steelers released Redman in the middle of October last season after he had been deactivated for three consecutive games.

The injury helps explain why Redman struggled so badly in his final NFL season as he averaged 4.2 yards per carry from 2010-12 and just 1.2 yards per carry in 2013.

Redman captured the fancy of Steelers fans in 2009 when he starred in the goal-line drill at training camp.

Little was known about the undrafted rookie from Bowie State in Maryland until the defense couldn’t keep him out of the end zone during one of the most anticipated drills at camp.

After bursting onto the scene, Redman found himself surrounded by reporters. As coach Mike Tomlin walked past Redman to give his daily camp briefing, he coolly said, “Sorry to interrupt you, Isaac.”

The day turned Redman into something of a cult figure and while he only made the practice squad that season, he played his way on to the 53-man roster in 2010 and rushed for 247 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry.

Redman always ran hard, and he thrived in the role of complementary back and spot starter.

He should be remembered fondly by Steelers fans despite the unfortunate end to his career.

Steelers' mail: Dri Archer's role

July, 25, 2014
Training camp start starts today as the Pittsburgh Steelers have to report to St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, by 4 p.m. ET. A run test is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET, and the Steelers will hold their first practice of 2014 on Saturday afternoon.

This is the final offseason mailbag and during camp I will post a mailbag on Tuesdays since the players are off that day. Send questions to @ScottBrown_ESPN with #steelersmail.

And away we go...

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Chris Rainey, the player with whom Archer is most comparable because of his speed and versatility, averaged just over five touches per game in 2012. Almost half of those (39) came on kickoff returns, and Rainey averaged only 2.5 touches per game on runs or receptions. I think Archer is a better player than Rainey and that the Steelers will try to utilize him more than they did Rainey. The rub, however, is this: the Steelers are significantly better at running back than they were the one season Rainey played with the team. Rashard Mendenhall missed the first 10 games of 2012 while he was still recovering from a torn ACL, and the Steelers leaned heavily on Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer that season. Archer has stiffer competition than Rainey did for carries with Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount ahead of him on the depth chart. I’d like to think that the Steelers will get Archer the ball eight to 10 times a game, but that depends a lot on him and the progress he makes during training camp.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I’m with you regarding Lance Moore. He looked really good during offseason practices, and he is such a solid player and one of those guys who just knows how to get open. I don’t see much of a difference between the No. 2 and No. 3 wide receivers since the Steelers will use a three-wideout formation frequently. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Moore gets the majority of the snaps opposite Brown when the Steelers use only two wide receivers. Markus Wheaton will be given every opportunity to win a starting job in camp but it won’t be given to him. If he stays healthy I think he will emerge this season and become a big part of the passing game. Wheaton wants to be great and he has the physical talent to succeed at this level.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I will get a better read on that Friday or Saturday after we get a chance to talk to Kelvin Beachum. I would imagine his confidence level is high, and not just because he played well in the 11 starts he made at left tackle last season. Beachum is an incredibly hard worker and is very studious. He is mindful that his technique has to be a strength since he is not a prototypical left tackle, and I guarantee you he will be nothing but prepared once he gets to camp. One thing I really like about Beachum: He is not assuming the starting job at left tackle is his even though he enters camp as the No. 1 left tackle. He knows he still has to win the job and welcomes the competition for it since it will only make him better. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t win the starting job, and if I’m the Steelers I let Mike Adams compete with Marcus Gilbert for the starting job at right tackle.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I think we will see a different player. As much as Jarvis Jones played in 2013 it took him a while to figure out just how to line up properly, and he admittedly spent most of his rookie season thinking instead of reacting. His confidence level should be much higher going into this season and he should play faster given his comfort level with the defense. How much of a jump he makes in sacks after notching just one last season remains to be seen. Joey Porter, who will mentor Jones, went from 2.5 to 10 in his second NFL season. I think the Steelers will be happy with seven or eight sacks from Jones as long as he puts consistent pressure on the quarterback.
PITTSBURGH -- A month into free agency few could have expected the Steelers to be as active as they have been in reshaping their roster. They have signed more than 10 free agents, including seven from other teams.

The Steelers are around $300,000 under the salary cap and are done signing players for now, having shifted their focus to the draft. With free agency having slowed to a crawl following a furious spending spree, let’s take a closer look at the outside free agents that the Steelers added with ESPN NFL analyst and former NFL scout Matt Williamson weighing in on each player:

Mike Mitchell

Position: S

Age: 27

Ht/Wt.: 6-0, 210

Deal: five-year, $25 million contract with $5.25 million guaranteed

2013 statistics: Set career-highs in tackles (66), interceptions (4), sacks (3 1/2) and forced fumbles (2) for the Panthers, blossoming after leaving Oakland for Carolina.

Skinny: The Steelers signed Mitchell to take over for Ryan Clark at free safety and get younger in the secondary. Mitchell prepares and plays with an edge. Next up for one of former Raiders owner Al Davis’ most infamous drat picks is proving those wrong who say his breakout season had more to do with the talent around Mitchell than his growth.

Matt Williamson’s take: “I think the arrow is very much going up on him because he’s big and fast and now he knows how to play the game. I think he’s a better coverage player than he is a run defender. I think he’s going to be your deep centerfield more often than not and let Troy (Polamalu) do his thing. Tackling is one thing he needs to work on but he can blitz.”

Cam Thomas

Position: DL

Age: 27

Ht/Wt.: 6-4, 330

Deal: two-year, $4 million contract with $1 million guaranteed

2013 statistics: Recorded 23 tackles while starting 10 of 16 games at nose tackle for the Chargers and also made his first career interception.

Skinny: The Steelers signed Thomas to provide depth at nose tackle and defensive end. The player known as “Baby Zilla” could get an opportunity to start at the defensive end spot opposite Cameron Heyward depending on the players that the Steelers draft or sign in free agency.

Matt Williamson’s take: “I thought it was a decent pick up. I think he’s versatile enough to play any of their defensive line spots as is (Steve) McLendon. They certainly need d-line help but it’s not like boy they have to get a Casey Hampton or boy they have to get a (Brett) Keisel. It’s giving them more options going into the draft and he’s young, big body, fits the mold of what they want from that position.”

Lance Moore

Position: WR

Age: 30

Ht/Wt.: 5-9, 190

Deal: two-year, $3 million contract with $645,000 million guaranteed

2013 statistics: Caught 37 passes for 457 yards and two touchdowns while starting five of the 13 games he played in his final seasons with the Saints.

Skinny: The Steelers moved quickly to fill their opening at No. 3 wide receiver after Jerricho Cotchery signed with the Panthers. They landed Moore, who was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2012, and had some other good seasons in New Orleans. Moore, like Cotchery, knows how to get open and has reliable hands. He is a little younger than Cotchery but isn’t as effective as Cotchery is in the red zone. Eight of Cotchery’s 10 touchdown receptions last season were from inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.

Matt Williamson’s take: “I think having a veteran in that room is really important, but I just wish he was a bigger guy. Cotchery was a pretty good red zone weapon where now they’re extra small at receiver. Moore had a bad year last year. He didn’t play much because of injuries but the few seasons before that he was a good player. He was always very reliable.”

Arthur Moats

Position: LB

Age: 26

Ht/Wt.: 6-2, 250

Deal: one-year, $795,000 contract with $65,000 guaranteed

2013 statistics: Played in every game last season, starting 12 at inside linebacker, and recorded a career-high 54 tackles.

Skinny: This under-the-radar signing could turn out to be a significant one for the Steelers. Moats will provide depth at outside linebacker and play special teams. He also could get a shot at challenging Vince Williams for the starting job at left inside linebacker, though Moats has said the Steelers will first try him at outside linebacker.

Matt Williamson’s take: “He’s unique. I can’t really come up with a guy off the top of my head in the league who can play all four linebacker spots at a 3-4. They’re very different skill sets. At a minimum he’s your fifth linebacker. He’s a very good special teamer. He’s still really young.”

Brice McCain

Position: CB

Age: 27

Ht/Wt.: 5-9, 187

Deal: one-year, $795,000 contract with $65,0000 guaranteed

2013 statistics: Started a career-high four games for the Texans and recorded 32 tackles with an interception and seven passes defended.

Skinny: The Texans cut ties with McCain after opposing teams picked on the fifth-year veteran a good bit last season. The Steelers only had three other cornerbacks with significant NFL experience before signing McCain so he gives them some insurance and will be plenty motivated to bounce back from a rough 2013 campaign.

Matt Williamson’s take: “He’s a fourth or fifth guy that plays sparingly and might not even make the team if they draft one or two (cornerbacks) that are real impressive. He has at least played a lot of snaps in this league. He’s good enough to get on the field but bad enough to get burned when he’s on there and he’s little. He’s the (signing) I’m least excited about.”

LeGarrette Blount

Position: RB

Age: 27

Ht/Wt.: 6-0, 250

Deal: two years, $3.85 million, with $950,000 guaranteed

2013 statistics: Rushed for 772 yards and seven touchdowns and averaged 5.0 yards per carry while emerging as the Patriots’ best back by the end of the season. Blount went off in a Patriots playoff win over the Colts, rushing for 166 yards and four touchdowns.

Skinny: The Steelers were looking for a proven back to provide depth and injury insurance behind Le'Veon Bell and they found a young one at a reasonable price. If Blount can shoulder some of the workload at running back that should keep Bell fresh throughout the season and perhaps add some seasons to his career.

Matt Williamson’s take: “If you watch SportsCenter and watch his highlights you think he’s better than he is. There’s times that he doesn’t play as big and strong as he really is. If there isn’t a hole there he doesn’t make his own, but he is powerful and I think he’s got really good feet. He doesn’t really offer anything in the passing game but the best thing is he’s better than (Jonathan) Dwyer and (Isaac) Redman. They upgraded there.”

Darrius Heyward-Bey

Position: WR

Age: 27

Ht/Wt.: 6-2, 219

Deal: one-year, $795,000 contract with $65,000 guaranteed

2013 statistics: Played a career-high 16 games, starting 12 of them, and caught 29 passes for 309 yards and a touchdown in his only seasons with the Colts.

Skinny: The seventh overall pick of the 2009 draft has never lived up to expectations with suspect hands often neutralizing his unique blend of size and speed. Heyward-Bey gives the Steelers a bigger wide receiver and one who is still young enough to have some upside. If he doesn’t work out the Steelers took virtually no risk in signing Heyward-Bey

Matt Williamson’s take: “Highly unreliable and it really only comes down to drops. He drops so many passes. It wasn’t his fault that he was the seventh pick of the draft and didn’t live up to it. Nobody thought he should be (picked that high) except for Al Davis. He may not even make the team.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers' season is riddled with what-ifs. In (dis)honor of their eight losses here are eight things that shaped their fate.

Near miss in opener: The Steelers took a shot deep down the right sidelines after getting a safety on the opening kickoff, but Emmanuel Sanders couldn't haul in Ben Roethlisberger's pass. It would have been a good catch but it turned into the kind of near-miss that defined Sanders' season as much as the big plays he delivered. You have to wonder if the Titans would have recovered had that play led to a touchdown and an early 9-0 Steelers lead. Instead the Steelers lost Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey to a season-ending knee injury on the first drive of the season and didn't score when Isaac Redman fumbled out of the end zone.

Hard to handle in Cincinnati: The Steelers were leading 3-0 in the second quarter when tight end David Paulson lost a fumble at the end of a 34-yard catch and run. Had Paulson held onto the ball the Steelers would have had a first down on the Bengals' 16-yard line. They would have been looking at least a 6-0 lead with Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton struggling with his accuracy. That play pivoted the game toward the Bengals and loomed large in a 20-10 loss at Paul Brown Stadium.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezTerrelle Pryor left the Pittsburgh defense in his wake en route to a 93-yard TD run.
Off and running in Oakland: Terrelle Pryor broke free for a 93-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage and that set the tone for another bad trip to Oakland. A handful of Steelers were caught out of position on the scamper, and that run exceeded the number of passing yards Pryor had (88). It also set an NFL record for longest run by a quarterback. The Steelers seemed to be a step slow all afternoon and the loss blunted any momentum they had generated following back-to-back wins.

Not so automatic: Shaun Suisham missed just two field goals all season and was as good as any kicker this side of Justin Tucker. But his misses couldn't have been timed any worse as both came in what turned out to be a three-point loss in Oakland. Nothing is as hard to comprehend about what happened this season then Suisham losing it for one game -- and one game only in an otherwise outstanding season. Both of his misses came inside of 35 yards and Suisham blamed himself for the worst loss of the season afterward.

Costly drop in Baltimore: The Steelers nearly rallied from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit, but Sanders dropped a 2-point conversion pass that would have tied the game, and the Ravens recovered the ensuing onside kick. The Steelers were nearly out of offensive linemen by the end of another brutal battle of attrition with their archrivals, and the injuries that decimated them up front might have put them at a disadvantage in overtime. On the other hand, the Steelers clearly had the Ravens on their heels after scoring three touchdowns in the second half. And they would have loved to take their chances in overtime.

No doubting Thomas: A backup running back playing on a bad wheel turned in the biggest play of the game when he broke free for a 55-yard run to set up the Dolphins' go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins blocked the play well though Troy Polamalu said after the Steelers' 34-28 loss that he had not gotten to his assigned gap. The run propelled Daniel Thomas, who played on an injured ankle, to only the second 100-yard game of his career and first since his rookie season in 2011. It also led to another improbable loss for the Steelers.

Almost a miracle: The Steelers came within inches of pulling off what would have been one of the greatest endings in NFL history. Sanders caught a pass at around the Steelers' 40-yard line and triggered a series of laterals after he gained about 5 more yards and tossed the ball back to Jerricho Cotchery. The ball reversed field and ended up tucked under Antonio Brown's left arm. Brown weaved his way through the Dolphins defense with no time left on the clock and reached the end zone. Officials however, correctly ruled that he stepped out of bounds at the 12-yard adding another heartbreaking chapter to the Steelers season. Brown probably could have avoided stepping out and still scored but snow made it difficult to tell where he was on the field. No single play epitomized the Steelers' near-miss season than this one.

No call shuts door on Steelers: Wouldn't you have loved to hear what Mike Tomlin was yelling at his TV when he noticed the Chargers were lined up illegally before Ryan Succop's 41-yard field goal attempt? Succop should have gotten a mulligan -- and moved 5 yards closer -- after barely missing the field goal that would sent the Steelers to the playoffs but no penalty was called. A quick whistle may have also cost the Steelers in overtime when Eric Weddle was ruled down before a Chiefs player ripped the ball out of his arms and raced into the end zone. Tomlin is a member of the NFL's competition committee and you can bet he will have plenty to say on the state of officiating.

No suprises among Steelers inactives

November, 3, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There are no surprises among the Pittsburgh Steelers' healthy scratches Sunday.

Inside linebacker Kion Wilson is inactive for the second game in a row since the Steelers promoted him from the practice squad.

Wilson’s status just confirms that when the Steelers released Isaac Redman a couple of weeks ago they did so because they had no use for the veteran running back.

Wilson benefited from Redman’s release but if the Steelers really needed another linebacker on the 53-man roster he would have suited up in each or at least one of the past two games.

Also inactive for the Steelers are right guard David DeCastro (ankle), wide receiver Markus Wheaton (finger), cornerback Curtis Brown, nose tackle Hebron Fangupo, tight end Richard Gordon and quarterback Landry Jones.

Wheaton did some light catching with the other wide receivers a couple of hours before kickoff, and he appears to be moving closer to returning to the field.

Wheaton will miss his fourth game in a row after having surgery to fix a broken right pinkie.

The Patriots will be without top cornerback Aqib Talib (hip) while wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins is inactive after playing just 14 snaps last Sunday.
  • The Steelers have restructured cornerback Ike Taylor's contract, a source told ESPN, freeing up around $3 million under the salary cap this year. The Steelers and Taylor agreed to turn his base salary this year into a signing bonus that can be spread over the remaining two years on his contract. The Steelers may still have to pay Isaac Redman close to $850,000 after releasing the fourth-year veteran last week. Redman signed a one-year, $1.3 million contract last April and the deal was not guaranteed. Redman, however, has the option of claiming the rest of the money on the contract via a termination payment that the collective bargaining allows players to exercise one time during their career.

  • All of the Steelers players were listed as full participants in practice Thursday. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert (quadricep), defensive end Brett Keisel (ribs), left tackle Kelvin Beachum (ribs), tight end Richard Gordon (toe) and tight end Heath Miller (coach's decision) had been limited Wednesday. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley was non-committal about Gilbert playing Sunday in Oakland, but Gilbert said he should be good to go against the Raiders. "Feeling great," he said.

  • Haley said he is happy with the Steelers' running backs and that goes beyond rookie Le'Veon Bell, who rushed for a career-high 93 yards in the Steelers' 19-16 win over the Ravens. "I like the way all of those guys go about their business," Haley said. "They are acting like professionals. When their number is called, they are getting things done for us. Guys are hungry and want to play. That's always a good thing."

    -- Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said the Steelers face a similar challenge in containing dual-threat quarterback Terrelle Pryor as they did last season when they faced Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. The 6-4, 233-pound Pryor's size and speed make him as difficult as any quarterback to tackle, LeBeau said. "He's like having another tailback in the game,” LeBeau said. "He's a great athlete." Pryor leads all AFC quarterbacks with 285 rushing yards but Ike Taylor said one thing the Steelers cornerbacks cannot do is peek into the backfield when they are covering a Raiders receiver. Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake calls that watching TV. Said Taylor, "You don't want to watch TV because nine times out of 10 its going to be on the wrong channel."
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made sure to lavish praise on Le'Veon Bell a couple of days after the rookie running back rushed for just 34 yards in the Week 6 win over the Jets.

After Bell gashed the Ravens for 93 yards last Sunday, Tomlin, unprompted and with a noticeable edge, asked: "Any questions about Le'Veon Bell?"

Tomlin may not be sensitive to outside criticism but he acknowledged that it could affect younger players such as Bell. That is why he gave the former Michigan State star a public vote of confidence.

"I felt the need to assure him that he's doing the right things, that's he's doing what we're asking him to do in a manner of which we ask him to do it," Tomlin said Tuesday. "I don't want him listening to the elevator music. I want him to listen to what matters and that's the opinion of the people that evaluate him."

Here are other notable topics that Tomlin addressed at his weekly news conference:
  • The Steelers released running back Isaac Redman and signed Kion Wilson, Tomlin said, because the latter gives them more flexibility on special teams. Wilson also provides depth at linebacker with Jarvis Jones coming back from a concussion. Tomlin did not provide an update on Jones and said the team will know more about his status Wednesday.
  • Tomlin said the offensive line played well against the Ravens, but asked if it has jelled, he said, "It would be premature to say that. Largely how they do and how we do is going to be determined how we move forward." Tomlin said pre-snap penalties are a concern, and he attributed those to the struggles the Steelers' offense has had in the red zone.
  • Zoltan Mesko's only punt against the Ravens covered just 36 yards and ended up as a net kick of 24 yards. Tomlin said Mesko's inconsistency has been an issue and that he has had a "junior varsity punt" in each of the last three games. "We need more consistency there," Tomlin said.
  • The decision Sunday to dress Isaiah Green over Curtis Brown resulted from Tomlin wanting to get the latter's attention. "Curtis is a top-flight special teams player but hadn't been playing that way over the last several weeks," Tomlin said.
  • Tomlin said he was told there was no "mechanism" in place to review the kickoff return after officials ruled that Emmanuel Sanders stepped out of bounds on the way to the end zone. Had the ruling on the field been a touchdown it would have automatically been reviewed. Asked if the proper time was put back on the clock after the ball was placed on the Steelers' 34-yard line, Tomlin said, "I have no idea. I was too pissed to notice."
Steel City wake-up: morning links

Le'Veon Bell had the best game of his young career against the Ravens, rushing for 93 yards and averaging almost 5 yards per carry. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley took advantage of Bell’s versatility and showcased the rookie in a host of different formations.

As a result, Bell rushed for roughly 66 percent of his yards on first down, and that helped the Steelers stay out of third-and-long for much of their 19-16 win at Heinz Field.

Bell’s emergence as an every-down back led to the release of Isaac Redman, who opened the season as the starter at running back but became the odd man out in the backfield after Bell returned from a mid-foot sprain.

The Steelers have now released both of their leading rushers from 2012 since late August, though they re-signed Jonathan Dwyer after LaRod Stephens-Howling went down with a season-ending knee injury.

The running game is trending upward with Bell and an offensive line that is coming off what was easily its best game of the season. The Steelers, meanwhile, have put together back-to-back wins for the first time in almost a year.

There is still much work ahead for the 2-4 Steelers, and their disastrous start has left them little margin for error. That is why the players said to a man that the Steelers did not announce their return with their first regular-season win over the Ravens since 2009.

A look around the AFC shows that the Steelers have to continue stringing wins together just to get into the discussion about the playoffs. Kansas City’s surprising 7-0 start doesn’t help as it all but guarantees that at least one of the two wild-card spots will go to a team in the AFC West.

The Bengals have taken early control of the AFC North but their 27-24 win over the Lions came at a significant cost. Cornerback Leon Hall left the game with what has been reported as a season-ending Achilles injury.

Isaac Redman's exit was inevitable

October, 21, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- The only surprise with the Pittsburgh Steelers' release of Isaac Redman is that it didn’t happen sooner.

The fourth-year running back had clearly fallen out of favor with the Steelers, and not because Redman went public with a claim that he had fooled team doctors after suffering a concussion in a Sept. 18 game at Cincinnati so he could keep playing.

Redman had simply exhausted the chances Steelers gave him to carve out a role in their backfield, which now clearly belongs to rookie Le'Veon Bell.

Redman didn’t seize the starting job last season when a knee injury sidelined former first-round pick Rashard Mendenhall for the first part of 2012. And he faltered badly when an injury that sidelined Bell gave Redman another chance to start at running back.

The Steelers made a mistake when they cut Jonathan Dwyer in late August and installed Redman as the starter with Bell still recovering from a mid-foot sprain. They corrected that error when Bell’s emergence made it clear the Steelers only needed to carry three running backs on their 53-man roster -- and they kept Dwyer over Redman.

That is not to discount Redman’s contributions to the Steelers or the value they received from a player who made the team as an undrafted free agent from Bowie State.

Redman rushed for more than 1,000 in three-plus seasons, and the 6-foot, 230-pounder ran hard if not always effectively. Redman could latch on with another team as a short-yardage back and spot starter, a role he handled with some success prior to this season.

But he had clearly become expendable in Pittsburgh, and it was only a matter of when, and not if, the Steelers would cut ties with Redman.

Steelers play it safe with Jarvis Jones

October, 20, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- Right outside linebacker Jarvis Jones will miss his first NFL game after suffering a concussion in the Steelers’ 19-6 win over the Jets last Sunday.

That Jones is among the seven Steelers inactives today does not necessarily mean he didn’t receive medical clearance to play against the Ravens. The Steelers may have de-activated Jones as a precaution, especially after he said he did not take part in any team drills on Friday, even though the team listed him as a full participant in practice.

Jason Worilds will start in place of Jones.

Just as noteworthy is the Steelers are dressing eight offensive linemen today with Mike Adams and Cody Wallace joining Guy Whimper as the backups. The decision reflects the Steelers’ desire to leave Kelvin Beachum at left tackle if there is an in-game injury along the line.

It is also an indication that coach Mike Tomlin learned his lesson last week after a pregame injury to Levi Brown left the Steelers with six offensive linemen while a dislocated wrist sidelined tight end and emergency offensive tackle David Johnson early in first quarter.

Running back Isaac Redman, who opened the season as a starter, is inactive for a third consecutive game. Cornerback Isaiah Green got the nod over Curtis Brown, who is not dressing today.
PITTSBURGH -- What in past years could have been hailed as the way to finish a run has instead taken a bite out of Jonathan Dwyer’s wallet.

Dwyer has been fined $21,000 for using the crown of his helmet in the Steelers’ 40-23 loss to the Chicago Bears last Sunday night. The fourth-year running back did not draw a penalty on the play but an NFL review of it resulted in a fine.

Wide receiver Antonio Brown, meanwhile, received separate fines totaling $15,750 for unnecessary roughness.

Brown was flagged for unnecessary roughness after grabbing a facemask during a punt return. He received the same penalty after making a tackle following a Ben Roethlisberger interception near the end of the game.

Brown said he plans to appeal the fines.

Dwyer’s fine is a result of a rule change enacted during the offseason. Players are no longer allowed to use the crown of their helmet to strike a blow against defensive players.

The rule change that is part of the NFL’s player-safety initiative has drawn its share of criticism.

One player-safety issue that cropped up with the Steelers this week won’t be investigated by the NFL.

Running back Isaac Redman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he played in the Steelers’ 20-10 loss at Cincinnati after sustaining a concussion on the opening kickoff. Redman said he lied to doctors so he could get back into the game.

The Steelers have refuted Redman’s claim and said they followed the mandated protocol when a player suffers a possible concussion before clearing Redman to return.

The NFL said it is satisfied with how the Steelers handled Redman’s injury though ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick wonders how Redman could have fooled doctors so easily.

Riddick, a former NFL safety, said it is not uncommon for players who have sustained a concussion to do everything they can to stay in a game.

But a league that is doing everything it can to minimize dangerous head hits has to also protect concussed players from themselves.

Inside Slant: Playing with concussions

September, 26, 2013
You've probably heard more than you care to about the causes of football concussions, the NFL's increasingly detailed diagnosis process and its treatment protocol. Independent neurologists are on the sideline during games this season, for instance, and players must be taken to the locker room to undergo tests at any sign of concussion symptoms.

While those steps are helpful and important, there is still ample evidence of the remaining gray area in this issue.

I've covered two games so far in 2013, and in both, an individual has played while concussed. (Or, in one case, played while claiming to have hidden a concussion.) Pittsburgh Steelers running back Isaac Redman returned to a Sept. 16 game after being cleared of a possible head injury, and Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor remained in last Monday night's game for two plays after a brutal hit that was later determined to have caused a concussion.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Kent Nishimura/Colorado Springs GazetteTerrelle Pryor played two more snaps after this hit late in the fourth quarter.
Let's walk through both issues and then I'll offer a few thoughts.

Redman was slow to get up on the opening kickoff in Week 2 at Paul Brown Stadium. He was taken to the locker room to be evaluated for a head injury, was cleared and returned to the game. He played 19 snaps, carrying on three of them and also catching two touchdowns, and finished the game.

I was among the reporters who interviewed Redman afterwards after the game. He spoke of being "embarrassed" by the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, among other topics, and never once did I think, "Wow, this guy seems hazy."

This week, however, Redman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he in fact had suffered a concussion and "was pretty much out of it the rest of the game." Asked how he had beat the concussion tests in the locker room, Redman said: "I said I was alright."

In a statement, the Steelers detailed their evaluation process:

"Isaac was taken out of the game, and we announced that he was being evaluated for a concussion. He was then taken through the proper protocol by our medical staff and it was deemed he was cleared to return to action after multiple examinations. He then re-entered the game and saw action shortly thereafter and throughout the rest of the game."

Meanwhile, last Monday night, we all saw Pryor absorb a crushing hit from Denver Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard late in the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Stadium. Pryor remained face down for a moment, and during an ensuing review to determine whether he fumbled, he wandered the field as if trying to collect himself.

Officials determined that the Raiders would maintain possession. Pyror returned to the huddle and threw a third-down pass to receiver Rod Streater. As the Raiders huddled for a fourth down play, Pryor turned and looked at the sideline as if he couldn't hear the call. The Raiders called timeout, Pryor walked to the sideline to get the play, and then returned to throw an incomplete pass.

Pryor didn't play again, the next day he tweeted: "Sorry about the loss RaiderNation. I don't remember much ! Good hit by whoever it was. I heard our team fought well .. We will be back!"

I'm not looking to assign blame here. Concussions don't always look the same and they descend at different paces. I don't think we want to get to the point where every hard hit leads to a player getting tested in the locker room during a game.

And despite warnings from the league, the NFL Players Association and independent doctors, we should probably expect at least some players to try to play through them. The process is better, no doubt, but it's not perfect and never will be.

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 3

September, 23, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 40-23 loss to the Chicago Bears.

[+] EnlargeLaMarr Woodley
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarLaMarr Woodley and the Steelers weren't able to make enough key plays on defense in the fourth quarter to rally past the Bears.
Change coming on O-line: The Steelers used a three-man rotation at offensive tackle Sunday night, and Kelvin Beachum could get a chance to unseat Marcus Gilbert or Mike Adams. "We're going to turn the stones over in an effort to find a winning formula," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, "and we’re not going to be bashful about that. Kelvin Beachum has earned the right to play in the rotation." The bookends of the offensive line have struggled, raising both short-term and long-term questions, particularly about Adams at left tackle. The second-year man does not look like the answer there, and his future may ultimately be at right tackle.

Falling down the depth chart: Isaac Redman opened the season as a starter but he could be the odd man out in the Steelers backfield when rookie Le’Veon Bell returns from a mid-foot sprain. Redman barely saw the field Sunday night and did not get a carry against the Bears. The fourth-year veteran has 12 yards on 10 carries this season. Take away an 8-yard run and Redman has 4 yards on his nine other carries, and his lost fumble on the Steelers’ first possession of the season set the tone for an offense that has struggled. Bell, the highly touted rookie, could return Sunday against the Vikings. Barring a setback he is at least on track to suit up Oct. 13 against the Jets following the Steelers’ bye week. The running game showed improvement against the Bears but it still has a long way to go. The Steelers have rushed for fewer than 100 yards in nine consecutive games dating back to last season.

Get off the field: The lack of turnovers forced by the Steelers defense has been well documented. Just as costly against the Bears was the defense’s inability to get off the field after whittling a deficit that had twice been 17 points down to four. The Steelers allowed Chicago to convert on third-and-10 and third-and-12 in the fourth quarter when the Bears were on their side of the field and clinging to a 27-23 lead. Credit Jay Cutler for using his legs to pick up the first down on third-and-10 and then for making a big-time throw three plays later on third-and-12. The 41-yard pass to Brandon Marshall led to a Bears touchdown, and Chicago was 3-for-3 on third down during that critical scoring drive. "We had them in a third-down situation and we gave up a big play and allowed them to score a touchdown at the end," outside linbebacker LaMarr Woodley said, "so that was on us as a defense."

Not all is bad: The Steelers special teams, thought to be a question mark heading into the season, have been one of the few bright spots during the 0-3 start. The Steelers rendered return specialist Devin Hester a nonfactor the week after he piled up a Bears record 247 yards in kickoff returns. Hester managed just 26 yards on two kickoff returns, and the Bears’ average field position after those returns was their 11-yard line. Steelers punter Zoltan Mesko drew a roughing the kicker penalty that gave the offense a new set of downs and new life in the second quarter. The Steelers turned that miscue into a touchdown that pulled them to within 24-10. Kicker Shaun Suisham drilled all three of his field goal attempts, and he is a perfect 4-for-4 this season.

A second chance for Redman

September, 10, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- Here are some highlights from coach Mike Tomlin’s weekly news conference. I will expand on some of these in later posts.

• Tomlin said Isaac Redman will start at running back against the Bengals despite fumbling twice in the season opener and rushing for 9 yards on 8 carries. “Obviously he played a bad game,” Tomlin said. “He’ll be given an opportunity to redeem himself.”

• Despite the signing of Fernando Velasco, Kelvin Beachum will be the starting center -- at least for now. Tomlin said the Steelers want to take a look at Velasco and Cody Wallace, who signed with the team on Sept. 1, before sorting out the situation at center.

• Tomlin was noncommittal on what role Jonathan Dwyer will play in the running game at Cincinnati. “That depends on his dependability,” Tomlin said. “We’ll play it by ear and see how it looks on the practice field and in the classroom.”

Kion Wilson will take over for Larry Foote at strongside inside linebacker. Foote had surgery Tuesday morning to repair a torn bicep and is out for the rest of the season. Foote had been the defensive player with a radio in his helmet to communicate with the coaches. Lawrence Timmons will have the radio moving forward.

Heath Miller (knee) will do more this week at practice, though Tomlin did not say how much closer the veteran tight end is to returning to action. Tomlin did not have an update on running back Le’Veon Bell (foot) and said cornerback Cortez Allen (ankle) will try to do some things later in the week.

• The Steelers signed veteran kicker Shayne Graham as injury insurance. Tomlin said Shaun Suisham is dealing with a minor hamstring injury, and added that Suisham could play against the Bengals depending on how he looks later this week.
• The Steelers will continue to use a three-man rotation at outside linebacker, and Tomlin said Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds “did some nice things” against the Titans.

• Not all was bad in the Steelers’ 16-9 loss to the Titans, Tomlin said. He liked how the Steelers converted on third down early in the game and how they shut down the Titans’ running game. Tomlin said he was also encouraged by how the Steelers stayed in the game and gave themselves a chance to win at the end. "All of those things are things to build on I think," he said.