LATROBE – The Steelers return their leading rusher from 2012, spent a second-round draft pick on a running back and made one of their few veteran free agent acquisitions at the position.
Yet, the current frontrunner as the Steelers held their first two practices at training camp at Saint Vincent College this weekend, wasn’t the returning rushing leader, Jonathan Dwyer, second-round draft pick Le’Veon Bell, or even the speedy free agent, LaRod Stephens-Howling.
That honor belongs to Isaac Redman.
Redman, a four-year veteran, isn’t going to give up the spot without a fight.
“It’s going to be a heated competition all camp,” said Redman, who finished 2012 with 410 yards rushing on 110 carries. “It’s going to be a good competition to watch. I’m glad I’m going to be a part of it.
“I’m coming in to compete for a starting spot. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Still, the veteran running backs know that the team didn’t use a second-round pick on Bell to let him sit.
Bell is trying not to put too much pressure on himself to win the job.
“Whatever role that I get, I just want to do the very best that I can at that role, whether it’s being the starter or coming in on third downs or just playing special teams,” the 6-1, 244-pound Bell said.
With former starter Rashard Mendenhall playing for the Arizona Cardinals, Pittsburgh went into the draft looking for an every-down back.
Redman feels he can be that guy.
The 6-0, 230-pound power back started five games last season, but only got more than 20 carries in one game, a 147-yard outburst against the New York Giants. Therein, at least according to Redman, was the problem with the running game in 2012.
Because of injuries and ineffectiveness, the Steelers never settled on a feature back. Redman’s 26-carry game against the Giants was the only time last season that a Pittsburgh running back had more than 20 carries in a game.
“That was pretty much, I felt, our main problem last year,” Redman said. “Our offensive line was being juggled around. Our running backs were being juggled around. It was hard to mesh. It’s hard to get going when you’re a running back and you’re getting a series here and you come out for a couple of series and then you’re back in. We’ll see what they’re going to do.”
The result of the instability at running back was a rushing attack that ranked just 26th in the NFL, producing 11 games in which the Steelers failed to gain 100 yards as a team on the ground. Dwyer’s 623 yards were the fewest for a Steelers’ leading rusher since 1991.
Not only did the Steelers draft Bell to help solve that issue, they also have made some alterations in their blocking schemes. No longer will they simply employ a power man-on-man blocking scheme. This season, more zone blocking schemes will be used.
The Steelers believe that scheme will better fit the young, athletic offensive line they have built with center Maurkice Pouncey, offensive tackles Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert and guard David DeCastro.
It could also benefit the running backs, giving them more seams to run through. The key, however, is not necessarily running more, but doing so more efficiently than the 3.7 yards per carry the Steelers averaged in 2012.
“The main thing they focused on was saying that we wanted to run the ball a lot better, a lot more efficient,” Redman said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to run the ball on every first and second down. We just want to be able to run the ball a lot better. If we’re able to do that, we’ll run the ball a lot more.”
“Whichever one of us is running the ball has to make positive yardage,” he said.
Odds and end zones
The Steelers held cornerback Cortez Allen out of practice Sunday after he experienced some soreness in his knee. … Cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke left practice early with a hamstring injury. … The Steelers will have their first practice in pads today. The 3 p.m. session is open to the public.