PITTSBURGH – They were calling him “Sir Isaac” in the broadcast booth in Cleveland on Sunday, but Isaac Redman can remember a time not too long ago when his coach called him everything BUT his name.
“Coach [Mike] Tomlin was calling me ‘Barlow’ and ‘Bowie’ and ‘Out of Shape,’” recalled Redman, the back who eventually secured Kevan Barlow’s No. 33 jersey after a record-setting career at Bowie State.
But back then, Redman was just a nobody to his coach.
“He didn’t call me by my name one time the whole camp,” Redman said.
Tomlin now calls Redman his starting running back, the guy who’ll replace the injured Rashard Mendenhall when the Steelers play the Denver Broncos in the wildcard round of the playoffs Sunday.
The game will be played in the thin air of mile-high Denver, and behind Redman on the depth chart are two backs with a combined resume of 10 NFL carries.
There’s little doubt Redman will get the workload he’s been craving the last three years.
“I haven’t run much in thin air,” he said. “We played there in the preseason but that wasn’t nearly as much work as I’m about to get now. I feel fine. I’ve worked hard all year. We’ve been practicing and running all along. I should be all right.”
Redman had three carries for 11 yards in that 2010 preseason game. He didn’t catch a pass, but probably picked up a blitz or two. He’ll do all of that and more Sunday in what will be his first start since Oct. 9, when he replaced Mendenhall against Tennessee and gained 49 yards in 15 carries.
In that game Jonathan Dwyer mopped up with 11 carries after the Steelers pulled ahead, but no one expects rookie John Clay get that kind of work in his third pro game.
It’s all on Redman, who was considered out of shape when he spent the 2009 season on the Steelers’ practice squad.
“I had looked pretty bad during the running test that year,” Redman explained. “I had missed my first flight so by the time my second flight got there, I hadn’t eaten or drank anything all day. I landed, came straight to camp, ran to the locker room, put my cleats on, ran on the field, and did the running test. And I looked pretty bad. I was nervous. I really didn’t know what was going on. My asthma started acting up. And then they were like, ‘Aw, man, this dude came here out of shape.’ So they said for a while that I was out of shape, and they kept saying it throughout the whole preseason.”
Redman said he felt uncomfortable on the practice squad that season, so he made it a point to make a better impression at his second camp.
“I wasn’t going to take no for an answer,” he said, and he made the team in 2010 and played in every game, including the Super Bowl.
He averaged 4.8 per carry in the regular season and 7.1 in the postseason and this year has become the toast of the talk-show set this season.
A short-yardage specialist, Redman replaced Mendenhall early last Sunday and finished the game with 92 yards on 19 carries. He came away from the game “definitely sore, probably the most sore I’ve been since I’ve been here.”
But he took the beating with a smile.
“Somebody told me I’m the starting running back on the most popular team going into the playoffs,” Redman said. “I’m ready. I’m embracing the moment. It’s times like this when you have to showcase and just let everybody know what you’re about.”