Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Steelers are left with an unheralded backfield

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 01: Running back Isaac Redman #33 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs from defenders D'Qwell Jackson #52 and Buster Skrine #22 of the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Rashard Mendenhall has been lost for the playoffs, but Max Starks isn't worried about a drop-off in the running game as the Steelers prepare for a wild-card game in Denver.

Consider what the Steelers left tackle heard about Isaac Redman during a 13-9 win at Cleveland two days ago.

"At one point, the Browns were arguing about who was going to tackle him because they couldn't get him down," Starks said Monday. "He's a tremendous downhill rusher."

The 6-foot, 230-pound Redman is also next in line following an MRI that, sources said, confirmed Mendenhall had torn his right ACL against the Browns.

Mendenhall became the third running back the Steelers have lost to a season-ending injury (Baron Batch and Jonathan Dwyer were the others). Mendenhall, who has led the team in rushing the past three seasons, is slated to have surgery within the next two weeks.

In addition to his 928 rushing yards this season, Mendenhall scored a team-high nine touchdowns.

Redman signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2009 and, in three years, has gone from training camp curiosity to feature back on a team that is eyeing a run at a seventh Super Bowl title.

Redman, who played his college ball at Division II Bowie (Md.) State, made his first career start earlier this season against Tennessee. He'll make the second one Sunday afternoon in Denver.

"I'm prepared," Redman said. "I'm capable of helping this team go to the Super Bowl."

Redman figures to get the bulk of the carries, despite losing a pair of fumbles in Cleveland. Behind him are Mewelde Moore, whom the Steelers hope can return this week after missing the past two games because of a knee injury, and John Clay.

The Steelers signed Clay off their practice squad two days before Christmas, and he carried nine times against the Browns.

Coach Mike Tomlin said Clay's workload had nothing to do with Redman's turnovers, which almost allowed the Browns to pull off an upset.

The fumbles were his first two of the season, and they marred an otherwise solid game for Redman.

Redman, who spent most of his rookie season on the Steelers' practice squad, battered the Browns for 92 yards and a touchdown on just 19 carries.

And he apparently made enough of an impression that he had the Browns' defensive players muttering to one another.

"It wouldn't surprise me," tight end Heath Miller said. "They probably got tired of hitting him. He really hits the hole hard. If he gets extra carries this week, I'm excited to see what he can do with them."

The Steelers don't figure to shy away from running the ball in Denver despite the injuries they have had to weather in their backfield.

The Steelers averaged 165 rushing yards in their final two regular-season games, and the Broncos finished 22nd in the NFL in run defense this season.

Denver yielded 126.3 rushing yards per game, and if Redman can get the Broncos defensive players talking to one another, the Steelers will consider it a good day on the ground.

"He's a hard runner," Starks said, "and (I'm) looking forward to seeing him featured."

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