When Pittsburgh Steelers starting running back Rashard Mendenhall left the week 17 season closer against the Cleveland Browns with a torn ACL, many outside of Pittsburgh believed the future of the position for next season looked bleak. Many speculated that the Steelers would test the waters of free agency to try to fill the void, but as players like BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Peyton Hillis found their way to the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively, some began to wonder.
When the NFL draft came and went and the Steelers only came out of it with a 5’9”, 180 lbs. scat back in the 5th round, and veteran running backs such as Ryan Grant and Cedric Benson remained without a team, still more appeared perplexed as to why the Steelers refused to address their supposed running back needs.
After all, Mendenhall, who as a 2008 1st round pick has started the majority of the past 3 seasons, rushing for close for 3,400 yards with 30 total touchdowns, is widely speculated to begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List, which would force him to miss at least the first 6 games of the regular season, by rule.
What many outside of Pittsburgh may not be aware of, however, is just how confident the organization is in 3rd year running back Isaac Redman, who entered the league in 2009 as a rookie undrafted free agent out of Bowie State University. Redman, born in Paulsboro, NJ, has an interesting back story fit for another article, but suffice it to say that he has made himself more and more indispensable to the team each year through his work ethic and determination, and it will likely finally pay off for him this season regardless of whether or not Mendenhall misses the first 6 games.
Redman spent the majority of his rookie season in 2009 on the practice squad while Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, and Mewelde Moore filled the 53 man roster at his position. He spent one game on the active roster when an injury to Parker made another body necessary, but he never played. During the 2010 season, he was named the short yardage back, and despite seeing only 52 carries that year, he made the most of his opportunities, rushing for 247 yards for a healthy 4.8 yards per carry. He also recorded 2 receiving touchdowns, including a late game winner against division rival Baltimore, which cemented the Steelers as the front runners to win the division, a position that they rode on to the Super Bowl that year, falling ultimately to the Packers.
The team’s trust in Redman was reflected when he more than doubled his number of touches in the 2011 season, rushing for 479 yards on 110 for a 4.4 YPC average, including one start. In the game where Mendenhall went down, Redman rushed for 92 yards on 19 carries while scoring a touchdown. He then got his very first postseason start against the Denver Broncos, and he really performed well, rushing for 121 yards on only 17 carries, a YPC average of 7.1.
While some will question whether Redman can carry the load for an extended period of time, the Steelers have no such questions. He was a standout in college, rewriting the school’s record books in the process as a workhorse back. The team sees him day in and day out, so they know him better than any sportswriter could. So when head coach Mike Tomlin says “Isaac Redman has proven that he is a legitimate NFL running back…he is not an unknown commodity”, one might be inclined to take him at his word. With a stable of unproven yet promising talent behind him in Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay, Baron Batch, and Chris Rainey, not to mention David Johnson and Will Johnson competing at the fullback position, it is no surprise that there was little room for free agents.