By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive backfield went from being among the team’s deepest positions to the thinnest.
With starting running back Rashard Mendenhall placed on the Reserve-Injured list due to an ACL tear in his right knee, second-year player Isaac Redman and rookie John Clay are the only healthy players with experience. Veteran third-down back Mewelde Moore (left knee sprain) has missed the past two weeks, but said he’d return for the playoffs. That doesn’t appear to be the case now.
“I’d like to get some work in practice this week, but we’ll see,” Moore said.
That’s probably why running back Chad Spann was added to the active roster from the practice squad. He replaced rookie linebacker Chris Carter (hamstring), who was played on the Reserve-Injured list today.
Redman finished the regular-season finale at Cleveland with 92 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries after Mendenhall was injured. Clay added 31 yards on nine rushes. Both totals were top performances by the two young backs, but mostly every reporter wanted to talk to Redman about his two fumbles.
“It kind of bothers me a little bit, but you’ve got to expect that,” Redman said. “I think I had a pretty good game, but people keep saying that I didn’t play as well as I could have because I had two fumbles. But I had 92 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, and I also picked up all the blitzes and even played a little special teams. So, I had a pretty good all-around game.
“(And) one run got called back or I would have had 100 (yards). So, I can understand the talk about fumbles, but it’s not like itâs been an ongoing problem with me. … I’m sure I had a couple fumbles somewhere along the way in my career. Nobody’s perfect, but at this level I really haven’t put the ball on the ground like that. But it’s up to me to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The main difference for Redman, he believed, was his level of soreness after the game. Redman said he probably was more sore than he’s ever been in the past two seasons with the Steelers, but after two days in the cold tub he’s ready to take a pounding once again and ready to show what he’s all about.
“Hopefully, you all will see this week a running back who’s capable of being a No. 1 running back in this league and helping his team win the Super Bowl,” Redman said. “In this league, it’s tough on your body once the game starts and you’re out there on every play, banging every play and picking up blitzing linebackers. So, I’m ready to be an every-down back for the playoffs.
“This is a big move. It’s where you want to be in this league, at this time of the year. If you can make those big plays and help your team get from game to game … itâs a national stage, everybody watching. I want to prove that Iâm a back that’s capable of doing more than just enough. I want to do it all.”
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger believed Redman can be that back.
“Isaac has been in the games a lot, so it’s not like he’s only been a third-down back and Rashard has been the guy,” Roethlisberber said. “Obviously, we’re going to miss Rashard, but Isaac will do just fine.
“He’s a great running back who can do so much in the run game and the pass game, and we’re going to have to get some production from John Clay as well.”
Clay has seen his role change drastically in recent weeks. He went from spending all season on the practice squad to just joining the active roster and now being the second option at running back.
“I’ve been doing the same things this week that I’ve always done, working hard on and off the field and asking questions any time I don’t understand something,” Clay said. “So, I prepare myself like I’m going to play Sunday, and I’ll be ready when they call my number during the game. When I got moved up to the 53-man roster, Coach Tomlin told me that I could help this team.
“I know that the standard is the standard. We all know that, and I’m ready to keep that up when I get in there. So, I’m very excited for the opportunity to showcase my talents and show the coaches and my teammates what I’m capable of doing. And I’m also looking forward to giving them a reason why they should keep me on the 53-man roster after this season.”
Like Redman, Clay was more sore this week than he’s been since college, but he was happy to feel that way.
“It was good to be that sore,” Clay said. “I enjoyed that game, and I want to help this team keep things going this season.”
Note: Spann’s spot on the practice squad was taken by third-year running back Albert Young, who played collegiately at Iowa and also spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings.