When the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Denver Broncos this Sunday in their AFC wild card matchup they will do so with all undrafted running backs in uniform. Starter Rashard Mendenhall was officially placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a torn ACL in his right knee that he suffered in the final regular season game against the Cleveland Browns and that means Isaac Redman, the Steelers undrafted running back out of Bowie State, will make his second career start.
Redman was originally signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009 after offensive coordinator Bruce Arians saw him on tape after a recommendation by Redman\'s uncle, Todd McNair, who played for Arians when both were at Temple. Redman bounced on and off the Steelers practice squad in 2009, but made the 53 man roster in 2010 and has stuck ever since. In his limited game action he has carried 162 times for 726 yards and rushed for 3 touchdowns. He has also chipped in 27 catches for 150 yards with 2 of those going for scores. He is a powerful inside runner that very rarely goes down on first contact and has excelled in blitz recognition and pickup over the years.
Normally veteran Mewelde Moore would be a change of pace option for the Steelers to use alongside Redman this week, but he suffered a MCL sprain to his left knee against the San Francisco 49ers back in week 15. When Moore went down the Steelers were forced to promote John Clay from the practice squad to serve as the number 3 back. Clay also went undrafted this past April and was signed by the Steelers as soon as the lockout was over. He had a rookie-like preseason and was beat out by 2010 6th round draft pick Jonathan Dwyer for the 3rd running back spot on the roster. Dwyer has since been placed on injured reserve several weeks ago himself with a foot injury. The former Wisconsin running back did enough however in the preseason to get signed to the Steelers practice squad where he stayed until his recent promotion.
The first NFL action for Clay was a memorable one as he scored against the St. Louis Rams on his very first NFL carry from 10 yards out. It was his only carry in the game. Clay followed that first game up with 9 carries for 31 yards against the Browns this past Sunday after Mendenhall went down with his knee injury. Clay will now head into Denver this week as the main backup to Redman as Moore is expected to be sidelined again this week.
With Moore sidelined, the Steelers will likely officially announce on Wednesday that undrafted running back Chad Spann has been promoted to the 53 man roster to serve as the 3rd running back against the Broncos. The former Northern Illinois University running back agreed to terms originally as an undrafted free agent with the Indianapolis Colts, but was placed on their injured reserve list to start the 2011 season after he suffered a hamstring injury during the first quarter of the Colts last preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Colts eventually reached an injury settlement with Spann a few weeks later and he was released to be a free agent.
Spann eventually was signed to the practice squad of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but was released a short time later. He was able to travel with the team to England as a member of their practice squad prior to being released. The Steelers signed Spann to their own practice squad in December after Dwyer was placed on injured reserve. Should he indeed dress on Sunday, it will mark his first regular season game in uniform.
The Steelers are not strangers to undrafted running backs as Willie Parker took the world by storm in 2005 as he rushed for 1,202 yards in 15 games and helped the Steelers to their fifth Lombardi Trophy against the Seattle Seahawks. Parker made two Pro Bowls as a member of the Steelers and rushed for 5,378 yards during his time in Pittsburgh. Parker originally made the Steelers in 2004 after going undrafted out of North Carolina and dressed for 8 games his rookie season.