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Steelers' Redman is ready for the spotlight

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By Scott Brown
Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012
 

One of the more compelling success stories in a locker room filled with them once spent an entire day carrying around a football. It was atonement for fumbling in a game.

It didn't happen this week at the Steelers' practice facility, but years ago in Paulsboro, N.J., a Philadelphia suburb where Isaac Redman excelled in football and wrestling at a school that excels in both sports.

"My coach made me do that," Redman said of legendary Paulsboro High coach Glenn Howard. "I don't know what it was supposed to do. It was sitting on my desk in class. It was barely in my hands."

The ball will be in Redman's hands plenty during the playoffs, starting Sunday when the Steelers visit Denver for an AFC wild-card game.

Rashard Mendenhall's season-ending knee injury has thrust Redman into the starting lineup, and the former undrafted free agent is the only healthy running back with significant NFL experience on the roster.

The bruising Redman averaged 4.4 yards per carry this season and converted nine of the 11 times he got the ball on third-and-2 or less. The 6-foot, 230-pounder is adept enough at picking up blitzing linebackers that he will serve as the Steelers' third-down back, as well as their featured runner.

"I'd be lying if I say I'm fine being a backup my whole career," said Redman, who rushed for 479 yards and three touchdowns this season. "Any chance I get I want to showcase my talent, and hopefully somebody here or wherever looks at me and says, 'Man, that guy is capable of being a No. 1 back in this league.' "

That self-assuredness is one reason why no one in the Steelers' locker room is worried that Redman lost two fumbles last Sunday in Cleveland. Coach Mike Tomlin apparently hasn't lost any sleep over the turnovers, either — or what they may portend.

"Actually, Coach Tomlin hasn't said anything to me about it," Redman said. "They understand that it's not like it's been an ongoing problem."

There was a time when Tomlin said little to Redman, and it came during his first training camp in 2009.

Redman signed with the Steelers out of Bowie State, a Division II school in Maryland. Tomlin called him "Barlow" in a nod to Kevan Barlow, who had worn No. 33 during a short stint with the Steelers prior to Redman's arrival. He also jabbed at Redman for showing up at camp out of shape.

Redman staged a coming-out party during the goal-line drill, scoring three times from the 1-yard line against the first-team defense. He carried four more times, per orders from Tomlin.

Redman received seven of the eight carries during the only camp drill that features live hitting, and he scored five times.

"He didn't call me by my name one time through whole camp," Redman said of Tomlin. "I was like, 'Man, maybe Coach Tomlin will call me Redman after this.' "

He didn't, but other Steelers took notice of Redman.

That included Casey Hampton, who admittedly knew almost nothing about Redman before the goal-line drill.

"He was a beast," Hampton said. "I don't expect nothing but greatness from him from these next few games we've got. I'm not worried about him at all. One guy ain't going to bring him down. That's the kind of back you want fighting for you all of the time."

Wide receiver Mike Wallace agreed.

"I can't even tell you the things guys are saying out there on the field," Wallace said. "They get pretty mad when he runs over all these people. They be cursing all the time."

Such salty language is one measure of how far Redman has risen since joining the Steelers as an unheralded rookie and spending most of 2009 on their practice squad.

Now that he has become a starter, Redman has dual pursuits.

"Hopefully you'll see a running back that's capable of being a No. 1 running back in this league," he said, "and capable of helping a team go to the Super Bowl."

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