By Jeremy Hritz
Isaac Redman had two solid games at the conclusion of the 2011 season, though one of them came against the porous Cleveland Browns and was adulterated by two fumbles. Against the Denver Broncos in the Wild Card playoff game, Redman carried for 121 yards, with a 7.1 yard per carry average. His performance against the Broncos was unquestionably the best of his career. In the 2010 season, Redman came through in the clutch against the Baltimore Ravens in a Sunday Night game in which he scored the game-winning touchdown on a pass from Ben Roethlisberger in the fourth quarter.
Are the flashes that Redman has shown indicative of his ability to carry a full workload for the Steelers, or is he best suited to serve as a change of pace for Rashard Mendenhall? Whichever he is destined to do, Mendenhall’s injury will most likely garner him an opportunity to make a statement at the beginning of the season about which role he is best suited for in 2012 and beyond.
Behind a mediocre offensive line, Mendenhall did not match his 2010 production, but his tentativeness and tiptoeing were equally responsible for his average performance. Compounding the situation was his unfortunate ACL tear against Cleveland that has created some uncertainty about his timetable to return to action and about his effectiveness when he does. Mendenhall has proven that he can be an effective runner as he did in 2010, scoring on several long runs during the regular season and playing well in the post season, with the exception of his fumble in the Super Bowl. There is no question that Mendenhall, a young 24, will be back on the field when he recovers from his injury next season, but when that happens is yet to be known. More importantly, is the question of how productive he can be when and if he does return. Steelers GM Kevin Colbert even said on Monday that Mendenhall is a candidate to open the season on the PUP list.
These uncertainties may have opened a small window for Redman.
Many have wondered about how Redman would play if he had a full season at running back as the starter, and if he is capable of carrying such a load. Over his three-year career with the Steelers, Redman has gained 729 yards on 162 attempts, which comes out to 4.5 yards per carry. Redman’s NFL sample size is too small to draw the conclusion that he could be successful as the starting running back of the Steelers, but when looking at his regular season statistics along with his performance against Denver in the playoffs, it is difficult not to be somewhat intrigued.
Redman has something to prove being undrafted out of Bowie State, where as a collegiate player, he rushed for 3300 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry. He will have an opportunity at the beginning of the season to assert himself in the Steelers offense. New offensive coordinator Todd Haley has utilized both a workhorse and running-back-by-committee approach during his time in Arizona and Kansas City, so it will be interesting to see what he chooses to do with his options at running back in Pittsburgh.
While Redman may never be a feature-back in Pittsburgh, or for any other team in the NFL, he is going to get a critical and thorough look this year from the coaching staff. If he can consistently produce and make plays as he did against the Broncos, it will make for an interesting story line once Mendenhall is healthy and ready to return.