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Steelers used to running Plan B in playoffs

| Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, 7:45 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Steelers running back Jordan Todman picks up fourth-quarter yards against the Raiders on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015, at Heinz Field.

Najeh Davenport, Isaac Redman, Ben Tate …

And, now, Fitzgerald Toussaint?

Carey Davis, John Clay, Josh Harris …

And, now, Jordan Todman?

Unfortunately for the Steelers, relying on relatively unknown and unheralded running backs for the playoffs isn't anything new. In fact, it has become something of the norm.

Saturday's wild card game in Cincinnati will mark the fourth time over the Steelers' past six playoff openers that they had to play without their starting running back.

“Wow, I hadn't realized that,” tight end Heath Miller said. “Some bad luck.”

DeAngelo Williams did not practice Wednesday, three days after suffering an injury to his right foot in a win at Cleveland. The veteran's status for Saturday remains murky.

Technically, even if Williams plays, the Steelers will be on their No. 2 running back because Williams was signed as a backup to Le'Veon Bell, who's on the injured reserve list.

While the Steelers advanced to the Super Bowl during the two most recent postseasons in which their starting running back was healthy, the team was one-and-done on each of the previous three occasions they did not have their top featured back and instead turned to the likes of Tate, Redman and Davenport.

It's possible — perhaps even likely — that Toussaint joins them as relatively unknown Steelers starting running backs in the playoffs.

It's also likely that if Williams is out, Todman will play a significant role — not unlike Davis, Clay and Harris who were third-stringers (or worse) and pressed into a more significant role for a Steelers' postseason game.

Todman confirmed he and Toussaint took reps with the first-team offense during Wednesday's practice.

“We don't want to wish injuries on anybody; we lost one, and it gives me that opportunity to step up and help my team out and get a win in any way possible,” Todman said. “And I'm looking forward to taking advantage of that.”

There's been no shortage of Steelers erstwhile backup running backs over the years who have gotten the same chance.

Counting Amos Zereoue starting in place of Jerome Bettis in a divisional round game against the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens following the 2001 season, five Steelers fill-in running backs over the past 15 seasons have averaged 57 rushing yards and a 3.7 per-carry average in the postseason.

Of the backups, only Redman had a strong individual statistical performance (17 carries for 121 yards in an overtime loss at Denver after the 2011 season). You have to go back to Zereoue for the most recent time the Steelers won a postseason game without their starting running back. Zereoue had 14 carries for 63 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-10 win.

Despite their statuses as backups, Zereoue (third season with the Steelers), Davenport (second) and Redman (third) were at least each well-established within the Steelers.

Last season, the Steelers didn't have that luxury. Tate was signed four days prior to the game. Toussaint and Todman each have been on the roster since early September (albeit, the practice squad in Toussaint's case for the first three months).

“Fitz and I, we have been here for the whole season now,” Todman said. “We've got some reps and play with the 1s.”

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger acknowledged that makes this season's challenge easier than with Tate last year.

“We don't have to reinvent anything,” Roethlisberger said. “We're just going to keep doing what we've always done.”

“We've seen these guys work,” Miller said of Toussaint and Todman. “You gain confidence in the guys who you work next to over the course of a season.”

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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