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Offensive line emphasizing short-yardage success for Steelers

| Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013, 8:00 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back Isaac Redman dives for extra yardage during practice Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013, at St. Vincent in Latrobe.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers guard David DeCastro practices Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013, at St. Vincent in Latrobe.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers guard David DeCastro run blocks during practice Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013, at St. Vincent in Latrobe.

Steelers guard Ramon Foster kept slugging away at nose tackle Hebron Fangupo during an intense short-yardage drill. Fangupo kept plowing toward the backfield, countering Foster's jabs.

In an atypical training camp shoving match, this was a genuinely heated bout. Foster couldn't relent, mostly because the offensive line had to prove it has the prerequisite in-your-face, down-in-the-dirt attitude to manufacture a yard or two on third-and-short rushing plays.

If results matter, the Steelers weren't mean enough on short-yardage plays last season.

Steelers running backs were tackled behind the line of scrimmage 42 times on 412 rushing attempts, which includes short-yardage and goal-line plays. In contrast, the Washington Redskins had 41 negative runs on a 519 attempts.

The Steelers, who open the preseason Saturday night at Heinz Field against the New York Giants, are emphasizing a need for the run game to improve on short-yardage plays and at the goal line.

“We don't want to mess around,” said tackle Marcus Gilbert. “We want to get that yard or two, and start a new possession. We're not trying to stretch to the outside. We just want to go straight downhill.”

Running back Isaac Redman is considered among the best short-yardage runners in the league, but he was often frustrated last season by his lack of room to run.

“We had some missed assignments, which is why we were failing sometimes on short-yardage plays,” he said. “In watching the film, we realized those missed assignments kept us from being as good as we could have been.”

Redman said the problem on third down was mostly mental errors and a breakdown in execution. He said the running backs shouldered part of the blame for failing to find the narrow seams at the line of scrimmage.

“It was an all-around effort as to why we weren't as good,” he said. “I feel like this year the sky is the limit all around.”

Redman said the game has evolved to such a degree that offensive linemen can't demand man-on-man blocking to take advantage of perceived weaknesses on an opponent's defensive front on short-yardage runs.

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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