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Is Isaac Redman ready to be Steelers' starting running back?

PITTSBURGH -- Isaac Redman laughed and said he'd be lying if he didn't admit it: Of course he's nervous. New offensive coordinator Todd Haley loves to run the ball, Rashard Mendenhall is out indefinitely, and, well, that makes Redman the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting running back.

"Isaac is ready," Mendenhall said.

"Isaac?" offensive lineman Willie Colon said. "He's been running over people long enough. He's ready."

"Even when I wasn't starting, coming into (last) season, there was some kind of nerves," Redman said in a light protest. After all, nerves don't preclude readiness. And he is definitely ready. He has to be.

Mendenhall tore his ACL in last year's regular season finale, and as much as he said he expects to be back this year (more on that later), Steelers brass said the opposite back in February. But they waited until the fifth round to pick a running back, and even then, they didn't take a traditional every-down back. The 5-foot-8, 180-pound Chris Rainey is a speedster and excellent pass catcher; he is not a pounder, a guy who blocks bigger linebackers or runs between the tackles. Which leaves filling Mendenhall's cleats to Redman.

"We'll see what happens," Redman said. "Right now, I'm just working in the weight room and getting my body together."

That Redman isn't yet doing flips is understandable: Three years ago, he was barely clinging to the practice squad. Four years ago, he was at Division II Bowie State. Neither coach Mike Tomlin nor anyone else has officially told him he's the starter. He knows he's first on the depth chart. He knows he turned some heads last season, gaining 121 yards on 17 carries and catching another two balls in the playoff loss at Denver. And with all sorts of familiar faces gone, he knows what the Steelers' ethos is.

"When one guy is not here, another guy steps up," he said. "That's Steelers football."

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Mendenhall agreed, and said nothing has changed in his relationship with Redman. If anything, he championed the older (by three years), but less experienced (by two years) player.

"Isaac is a great player," Mendenhall said. "The way he works and prepares and even coming from where he came from, being undrafted to where he is now."

As for Mendenhall, he walked without a limp and proclaimed himself optimistic. He is already running and cutting and doing ladder drills and plyometric work. He was emphatic when he said he would be back this year and yet, at the same time, he wouldn't offer any sort of timetable, saying only, "It's one day at a time."

And so, through OTAs, training camp and likely the start of the season, it appears as if Redman is the Steelers' running back. His teammates expressed full faith in him and he pronounced himself "ready to step up when my number's called."

Follow Aditi Kinkhabwala on Twitter @AKinkhabwala

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