x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

'Red Zone' has the green light to shine for Steelers against Broncos

Mendenhall's injury means Isaac Redman gets chance to cement place at running back for Pittsburgh.

Isaac Redman has been primary used as a goal-line back so far in his career with his lengthiest gain being 27 yards.
Isaac Redman has been primary used as a goal-line back so far in his career with his lengthiest gain being 27 yards.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, forever proud of their rushing attack, will place all their trust throughout the post-season in a lightly used, thrice-waived, relatively slow-footed undrafted player from an obscure college who fumbled twice a week ago - in one quarter.

Bring it on, says Isaac Redman, exuding the confidence that his job demands.

"I want to be a back who led us to the Super Bowl," Redman said. "I'm embracing the moment. Times like these, you have to show what you're about."

He will be afforded ample opportunity against the Broncos tonight of the play-offs after Rashard Mendenhall, the team's starting running back, succumbed to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last Sunday.

To the rescue came Redman, with 92 yards and the game's lone touchdown in 18 carries, increasing his career total to just 110.

Redman has been pigeonholed as a short yardage back, inadvertently so by Mike Tomlin, the Steelers coach, who nicknamed him "Red Zone" because his speciality was tough runs within the shadow of the goalposts.

On the bright side, "Red Zone" beats "Barlow". That is how Tomlin was misidentifying Redman, having mixed him up with another running back.

And it is preferable to any epithet that alludes to Redman's fumbling. Though never a turnover machine, he was forced to carry around a football as a high-school player for fumbling.

Most marginal tailbacks would face reduced minutes after a pair of giveaways in crunch time. The Steelers have no choice, with Mendenhall shelved and Ben Roethlisberger, their quarterback, hobbled by a sore left ankle.

Those conventional injuries have combined with unusual health developments to make the Steelers relieved that the week has ended.

Tomlin decided to hold out the safety Ryan Clark as a precaution. Clark suffers from sickle-cell trait, whose symptoms can be triggered by physical exertion at high elevations. Denver is about 1,600 meters above sea level, the highest in the NFL.

Clark escaped death five years ago, losing his gall bladder and spleen when the condition became apparent. He has skipped previous games in Denver, whose stadium once was called Mile High.

Then, Redman's position coach, Kirby Wilson, was badly burned in a fire at his home early on Friday morning. Wilson was hospitalised and will miss Sunday's game. "We have a little more incentive to go out and … get this win for him," Redman said.

Wilson was on the staff when Pittsburgh signed Redman in 2009 out of Bowie State, which had produced only two NFL players, both in the 1980s.

Redman would have wound up at a more prestigious university if not for his arrest while in high school for assaulting a teenage girl.

He agreed to a plea deal that resulted in probation but kept him out of jail, avoiding a maximum sentence of 20 years.

The mounting legal fees forced Redman's mother to file for bankruptcy, and forfeit the house and car. Redman's father deserted the family. Having been through so many tribulations, Redman's modest goal, typical of an undrafted rookie, merely was to earn a Steelers uniform.

He did not, at first, becoming a victim of final cuts that summer. He proceeded to enter a revolving door that spun him between the Pittsburgh practice squad, the active roster and unemployment, often within two days of each other.

Redman latched on for good before last season, when Tomlin dubbed him the primary goal-line runner, a fitting role for a burly ball-carrier whose lengthiest gain has been 27 yards.

He is, however, a superior receiver to Mendenhall, with 27 career catches, two for touchdowns.

Little-known young players often announce themselves with a bullhorn to the football world in the post-season - see overnight sensation James Starks, the Green Bay Packers tailback, last year - and Redman is aware that his window of opportunity is cracked open.

"It's a national stage. Everybody's watching," he said.

Should Redman make an imprint on the post-season, his number will be called in the huddle more often, either in Pittsburgh or elsewhere. His three-year contract, worth $1.4 million (Dh5.1m), expires with the Steelers' final snap of the play-offs.

"I will be lying if I said I'd be fine with being a backup my whole career," he said.

"Any opportunity I get, I want to showcase my talent and hopefully somebody here or wherever looks at me and says 'Man, this guy is capable of being a No 1 back in this league.'"

 

sports@thenational.ae

 

@ For more on NFL 2011-12, visit thenational.ae/topics