Redman has come a long way for Steelers

Now that he’s become their starting running back, Pittsburgh

Steelers coaches can laugh about how Isaac Redman tanked in his

first impression during an NFL training camp.

As a nervous undrafted rookie from Division II Bowie State three

years ago, Redman almost failing the annual first-day-of-camp

conditioning test wasn’t as funny.

”I was out of shape,” Redman recalled on Sunday at St. Vincent

College. ”I didn’t really look like too much.”

Within two weeks, though, Redman was evolving into one of the

stars of training camp. Three years after that, Redman is in line

to start the Steelers’ season opener in Denver Sept. 9.

Redman has gradually worked his way up the Pittsburgh depth

chart and, with starter Rashard Mendenhall on the physically unable

to perform list while he continues recovery from a torn ACL, Redman

has gone from longshot, unknown rookie to featured back.

”It’s just crazy how time changes,” Redman said.

As poor as Redman’s performance was during that conditioning

test on the afternoon he reported to his first NFL training camp,

all was soon forgotten among coaches and fans when Redman quickly

showed his skill for getting into the end zone.

The 6-foot, 230-pound Redman scored five times in a goal-line

drill during a practice that was open to the public early during

his 2009 rookie training camp. He scored two touchdowns in the

preseason opener for the Steelers, who were then the defending

Super Bowl champions.

The career rushing leader at Bowie State, Redman didn’t make

Pittsburgh’s active roster that season but was signed to the

practice squad and dressed for one game.

”Fast forward to now, and … I’m here coming in as No. 1 on

the depth chart,” Redman said. ”I feel like a totally different

player, I feel like a professional. I’m taking on a leadership role

in the running back room, guys are looking up to me. When I came in

I was looking up to Willie Parker and Rashard and those guys,

Mewelde (Moore). And now I got a bunch of young guys looking at me

for advice.”

Behind Redman on the depth chart are youngsters Jonathan Dwyer

(eight career games), John Clay (two games), rookie Chris Rainey

and second-year Baron Batch, who tore an ACL early in his rookie

training camp last year.

Redman briefly was knocked out of practice Sunday, shaken up

after a block. The Steelers’ most physical back, Redman’s early

goal-line prowess was a sign of things to come.

”It takes a team to hit that guy,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley

said.

”You can’t just think that when you hit him he’s falling down,

because he’s spinning and fighting for extra yards.”

Redman made his first career start last season, but it wasn’t

until Mendenhall went down in the regular-season finale at

Cleveland on Jan. 1. He had a career-high 92 rushing yards and a

touchdown, but the best was yet to come.

Making his first career postseason start the following week at

Denver, Redman became just the fourth undrafted running back to

rush for more than 100 yards in a playoff game.

Redman’s game-high 121 yards on 17 carries perhaps was a factor

in Steelers management’s decision not to pursue a veteran running

back over the offseason. Even with Mendenhall’s status in limbo for

the start of the season, Pittsburgh let Moore go.

With only a young stable of inexperienced backs behind him, the

message was clear: The Steelers have faith in Redman to carry the

load.

”Coming from Bowie State, nobody really even thought that I

would amount to anything here, so I know any good that I did would

probably spark a lot of people,” Redman said. ”It was a lot

easier to impress people then. Now, coming in, everybody’s looking

at me to be a No. 1 back and all eyes are on me, so it’s kind of

different from when I first came in until now.”

Redman irked some veteran teammates three years ago when he

spiked the ball after a touchdown during a goal-line drill as a

rookie. He earned their respect through his work ethic, aggressive

running style and commitment to the dirtier aspects of his job such

as blocking.

”He sees the hole, he hits the hole, and he runs hard,” tight

end Heath Miller said. ”And I think that’s infectious about the

whole offense when you see a guy that runs this hard and fights for

every yard as hard as he does.”

During a ”backs-on-‘backers” drill Saturday, coaches lined up

the ”main event” finale as Redman vs. Woodley, who is one of the

game’s premier pass-rushers. Woodley conceded that, under a format

that can be trying on a running back, Redman held his own.

”I don’t think people fully realize he was a former state

champion in wrestling,” cornerback Ike Taylor said of Redman. ”So

he’s hard to bring down. And he’s got that `man mentality.’

”Isaac is just, in a word, tough.”

NOTES: Monday is a day off for the players. … WR Emmanuel

Sanders was held out of Sunday’s practice as a precaution. Last

season, Sanders was hampered by a foot injury and the rainy week

led to the Steelers practicing on an artificial turf field. … CB

Keenan Lewis left practice early due to a shoulder sprain that will

be evaluated. … LT Trai Essex and rookie RG David DeCastro also

were forced out of practice but coach Mike Tomlin indicated they

will be back for the team’s next workout Tuesday.