Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 7/9/12

PITTSBURGH -- One of six former undrafted free agents who figures to open the year as a starting tailback for his franchise, Isaac Redman of the Pittsburgh Steelers is also the only member of that half-dozen lead runner subset who has yet to rush for 500 yards in a season.

Yet the third-year veteran, who almost certainly will supplant the injured Rashard Mendenhall as the Steelers' starter for the Sept. 9 opener at Denver, is confident that he can fill the bill in a revamped offense that likely will emphasize the run more in 2012 under new coordinator Todd Haley.

"Mentally, you're always ready, because you're just one (injury) away from having to be 'the guy,' you know?" said Redman, a former Bowie State (Md.) standout signed by the Steelers in 2009, after he went undrafted. "This is a little different. You have to be ready to carry maybe 20 times in a game, instead of, say, 10. The workload is something you can't ignore. But I'm looking forward to it. People are looking hard to me to step up ... and I don't intend to let anyone down."

Mendenhall tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the 2011 season finale at Cleveland, and the Steelers' leading rusher each of the past three seasons probably will begin the season on the physically unable to perform list. That would sideline Mendenhall for at least the first six weeks. Even though Mendenhall has begun light jogging, and his rehabilitation seems to be proceeding without incident, there is speculation the former first-rounder won't play at all in 2012. Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert even acknowledged that anything the team gets from Mendenhall this season will be "a bonus."

The team's first-round pick in 2008, Mendenhall expects to return at some point in 2012, but conceded this spring that he can't say when. Entering the final season of his original contract, the injury places Mendenhall and the Steelers in a tough spot.

Enter Redman, who rushed for 121 yards on 17 attempts in the Steelers' wild card loss to the Broncos to end last season, but who had only one regular-season start before that. His lack of starting experience notwithstanding, Redman has adopted an Alfred E. Newman ("What, me worry?") approach to the impending pressure.

"I've never been one, not matter what other people think, to doubt myself," Redman said. "I mean, why not me, right? Other (undrafted tailbacks) have done it."

True enough, but Redman, who took the bulk of the snaps as the No. 1 tailback during the Pittsburgh minicamps and OTAs, and who appears unchallenged right now for the top perch on the depth chart, hasn't done it yet. All of the other five undrafted players projected as starters have achieved some respective degree of NFL success.

Fred Jackson (Buffalo), LeGarrette Blount (Tampa Bay), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Cincinnati) and Arian Foster (Houston) all have 1,000-yard seasons. Foster's resume includes a rushing title. New Orleans' Pierre Thomas owns a Super Bowl ring. Green-Ellis (Cincinnati) has played in a Super Bowl.

Redman, on the other hand, has just two career starts, counting the playoff game last year. He owns only three career contests with 10 or more carries. And, after starting his career in 2009 by spending the entire season on injured reserve, Redman has just 726 yards in two seasons. The five other undrafted free agents cited previously all have at least one year with more rushing yards than Redman's career total.

What he might lack in experience and accomplishments, though, Redman possesses in self esteem. And the rest of the organization here, where the Steelers have added no veteran runners in free agency and didn't choose a tailback in the draft until the fifth round, seems to share that confidence.

"That's our guy," said center Maurkice Pouncey. Added coach Mike Tomlin at last month's mandatory minicamp: "We believe in (Redman)."

Good thing, because there isn't much behind him. The Steelers currently have four tailbacks, besides Mendenhall and Redman, on the roster. Second-year veteran Baron Batch, a seventh-round choice in 2011, spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve. This year's fifth-rounder, Chris Rainey, is regarded more as a third-down or change-of-pace back. Returning young veterans Jonathan Dwyer and John Clay have a total of 10 regular-season appearances and zero starts between them, with a combined 35 carries for 191 yards and one touchdown.

Compounding the situation is the new offense installed this spring by Haley, who is replacing longtime coordinator Bruce Arians. Redman conceded that the offense, with its new terminology, will need an acclimation period. Then there is the seeming preference of standout quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the passing game, and the charge of Steelers' president Art Rooney II to better balance the attack in 2012.

If the urging of Rooney, that Pittsburgh improve its ground efficiency, doesn't quite qualify as a mandate from the top, it's certainly a strong suggestion. The Steelers ranked No. 14 statistically in rushing offense in 2011, had only 386 rushes by backs, and suffered problems closing out games on the ground.

Relying on a relatively untested tailback to fix all of the problems -- especially one who probably lacks Mendenhall's wiggle, and his and long speed, and was principally utilized as a short-yardage and goal line specialist in the past -- doesn't exactly sound like a ready remedy.

Except to the 230-pound Redman.

"I'm sure of myself," Redman said. "And the team, I think, is sure of me, too."

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