They don’t celebrate NFL backups in southern New Jersey. Trust Isaac Redman on this.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers running back returned to his hometown of Paulsboro, N.J., during the offseason after his rookie year in the NFL in 2009, people just kind of shrugged their shoulders.
Three years later, things have changed. The overweight kid from Division II Bowie State who barely made the practice squad during that miserable first season is now the centerpiece for a running attack geared at taking pressure off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
And the fine folks in Paulsboro know it.
“I get a lot different treatment now when I’m home than I did when I was on the practice squad,” Redman said with a laugh.
Redman is such a celebrity he’s even holding his first football camp at Paulsboro High next month. It’s heady territory for a player who spent his first training camp with the Steelers trying to get coach Mike Tomlin to remember his name.
It wasn’t until Redman beat the first-team defense for a series of touchdowns during a goal line drill that he got Tomlin’s attention, with the coach nicknaming the 6-foot, 230-pound Redman “Red Zone.”
It’s a fond memory of a day that probably saved Redman’s career. Fast-forward to 2012, and Redman’s perseverance has paid off with the opportunity he knew would come eventually.
Redman practiced with the first string during the second day of organized team activities on Wednesday and will get the initial crack at replacing injured starter Rashard Mendenhall, who remains out indefinitely while recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL.
Mendenhall is optimistic he can return at some point this fall, but even he’s not willing to put his recovery on any sort of timeline.
“I’m just focused on getting back 100 percent,” Mendenhall said. “At what point I do that, whenever that is, I don’t know.”
That leaves it up to Redman to lead the backfield as it transitions to new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s diverse offense.
Haley helped the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl with an offense that featured Kurt Warner at quarterback throwing it to Pro Bowlers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin then took the Kansas City Chiefs to the playoffs with a run-first attack that leaned heavily on Jamaal Charles.
The Chiefs ran for an NFL-high 2,627 yards in 2010, a number the Steelers haven’t reached since going 15-1 in 2001.
While Roethlisberger and his receivers have wrung their hands about how long it will take to master Haley’s playbook, Redman rubbed his hands in glee.
The Steelers evolved into a passing team under former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. The pendulum may be swinging back now.