Why Isaac Redman Cannot Completely Replace Rashard Mendenhall

By Cian Fahey

When Reggie Bush left New Orleans, the Saints made sure to bring in a player who matched his similar skill set despite already having some level of depth at the position. The Saints entered free agency last year, because of the lockout, with Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory as their three running backs.

However, once the season began, the team\’s most important back was free agent addition Darren Sproles.

Darren Sproles is probably the worst runner of the group, as Ingram, Thomas and Ivory all run hard whether it be between the tackles or to the outside. Sproles, who had been the leading receiver in San Diego, wasn\’t hugely in demand or appreciated on the free agent market before going on to having a huge year in New Orleans.

Sproles and Bush\’s impact on the NFL field carries past the statistical sheet. That impact is very important for the Pittsburgh Steelers this year as they attempt to deal with the loss of featured running back Rashard Mendenhall.

Mendenahll has had a solid if unspectacular career in Pittsburgh. He receives a level of criticism for not always running hard or hitting holes on a consistent basis. While that is a fair criticism, it is somewhat understandable considering he regularly ran behind an offensive line which required him to blow open his own holes or gain no yardage.

If you are repeatedly hitting the hole and punishing your body for no benefit, it is bound to impact your mental willingness to run hard. It is that demoralization, which has overcome Mendenhall since his days in Illinois, that led to calls for Isaac Redman to become the team\’s starter even prior to Mendenhall\’s career threatening injury in Denver last year.

While Mendenhall is expected to return to football, his running style could forever be changed to the point that he wouldn\’t be an effective player. Mendenhall is a stocky back who aggressively plants and extends his legs when cutting. That puts a lot of pressure on his knees to carry more weight than most players who run with that style normally must.

Mendenhall\’s long-term loss isn\’t an issue right now. Right now, the Steelers must address what his loss means for their short-term offense.

Isaac Redman may be able to replace Mendenhall with tough running through the middle and broken tackles to punish defenses. However he lacks the explosive speed of Mendenhall and doesn\’t break to the outside as well.

Redman as a runner has proven himself in a secondary role. However, where Mendenhall\’s loss really hits the Steelers is strategically.

While Mendenhall isn\’t Darren Sproles or Reggie Bush, he does share some characteristics in that he is a very capable receiver and threat in space coming out of the backfield. He often lined up as a receiver also, actually running routes, when the Steelers went to five wide under Bruce Arians prior to the emergence of Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace.

Mendenhall has never had that much production as a receiver throughout his career, but the threat of being one is what the Steelers lose without him. The impact which Bush and Sproles made in New Orleans past statistics was on opposing defense\’s gameplans.

When the Saints line up with Sproles in the backfield with Drew Brees, the offense cannot define him as a running back. As far as Sproles is concerned, he has the all-around abilities to take advantage of a nickel defense running the ball or run away from a linebacker in coverage.

Mendenhall also had the ability to be seen as a receiver rather than just a running back. Even though he couldn\’t catch the ball as well as Sproles or Bush, he was a physically imposing blocker.

When Mendenhall lines up in the backfield, opposing defenses have to worry about him coming out of the backfield, catching screen passes, running the ball or count him as an extra blocker. With Redman in the game, teams can cross out his threat as a receiver out of the backfield or on screens because the Steelers won\’t win games if Redman is catching the ball.

Of course, replacing Mendenahll by committee is an option and Mewelde Moore, who is an unrestricted free agent, has proven in the past that he is the atypical Redman in that he is essentially a receiving running back.

The problem with replacing Mendenhall with two or three players, only one of those players can be on the field at any time. Predictability sets in with that strategy and predictability allows defenses to be less reactive and more proactive.

The best offenses in the NFL force defenses to constantly be thinking about what said offense is going to do. Tom Brady\’s New England Patriots do this to perfection as they use their tight ends as matchup nightmares forcing defenses to show their hand in base defense or nickel coverage.

Without Mendenhall, the Steelers don\’t have enough versatility and dynamism in the backfield to create this conundrum.

Todd Haley did have Edgerrin James on his offense in Arizona. James was a big back, not too dissimilar to Redman, but he was a more than capable receiver who forced defenses to respect his abilities as a receiver.

Isaac Redman simply possess that same ability as he is better served to be a pounding back in a play action offense. The Steelers no longer run that kind of offense as they transition towards a passing system focusing on Ben Roethlisberger and his talented receivers.

For years, Steelers fans had to endure Bruce Arians predictable play calling and bad situational play calling. If the Steelers are to avoid being a predictable offense under Haley, then a replacement for Rashard Mendenhall is needed.

Riding the bus is no longer an option for the Steelers\’ offense. The talent is angled towards a Darren Sproles or Reggie Bush opposed to a Jerome Bettis.

Looking at the bigger picture is the best way to put together a jigsaw, at the moment, there is an important piece missing for the Steelers\’ offensive jigsaw.

Isaac Redman is not that missing piece. He\’s still a part of the overall picture the team is trying to build, as a backup and goal-line carrier, he\’s just not as central as many believe.

You can follow Cian on Twitter at @Cianaf

  • SteelersDepot

    This ought to stir the hornets nest pretty good Cian. lol I will chime in after a few comments.

  • Hope everyone understands that I’m not stirring the nest for the sake of stirring the nest, big difference between looking good as a backup/role-player opposed to being a full-time starter.

  • Family

    I believe Redman has nearly as many receiving tds as rushing tds. What is your evidence he can’t catch. Give the guy a chance. Have you even watched his film at Bowie state ? Look at the “Issac redman show” on YouTube. Thete were several plays where he caught the ball for a big gain. He is no Reggie Bush as a receiver but neither is Mendenhall. I think he brings just as much as a receiver as mendenhall did even if you only considered his Steelers career. Don’t forget about Barron batch. He should be a capable 3rd down back if Memo is of gas next year.

  • Pete

    I don’t see a comparison between Mendenhall and Sproles or Bush. Redman is a different type of runner than Mendenhall and brings a different skillset to the table. Redman arguably runs more violently and is more difficult to tackle than Mendenhall. Mendenhall has more finesse and speed but you don’t have to have speed to be effective. Look at the Giants’ backs. I don’t see them as overly speedy like Mendenhall but they are quite effective. Redman will get the job done. As an undrafted free agent and the way he has run the ball so far, Redman should be very proud of himself.

    I would take Redman any day of the week. This is likely why the Steelers are not worried about Mendenhall being on PUP come the start of the season. I’m not saying Mendenhall is a poor back. What I am saying is that Redman can hold himself against any NFL back except the most elite and Mendenhall does not belong to that group.

  • Terrell5524

    I honestly like Redman a tad bit more than Mendenhall. To me Mendenhall tries to do to much when he touches the ball. I know we don’t have the best offensive of line, but Redman seems to hit the whole hard and takes what the defense gives him.Mendenhall on the other hand bounces around to much and looks for the homerun to often. As far as catching goes we haven’t seen the steelers throw to Redman a lot during his time with the team, but we seen he can catch and run after the catch perfect example the ravens game last year that won us the division title. Mendenhall is the faster and more explosive player, but if your dancing around majority of the time you have the ball it’s useless.

  • Strattonnash

    I personally don’t want him or expect him to replace Rashad. Just be Issac. With what I’ve seen, that should be more than enough

  • Wdmason

    I liked the article but I cant help but remember Redmans TD catch against the Ravens when he broke a tackle on the way to the endzone.. Im not sure he can be a fulltime starter either but I was never worried about him catching the ball.

  • Bobbygl7

    He is only the BU because BA had to much faith in Mendenhall……Plus Redzone is the best blitz pick up guy on the Team…..This makes it very easy to be diverse in the play calling…..Your article was a nice read and was well written,,,it just happens to be wrong.

  • bonairsfavoriteson

    So your saying because redman runs like bettis he won’t be effective as mendy because mendy went out in pass patterns, even though we hardly ever threw him the ball. HUH.

  • You are right, but I think Redman’s style fits our line better. My problem with Mendenhall is he doesn’t hit the hole cleanly, and prefers to spin rather than keep going forward. Redman is much more of a north-south runner.

    Another point is, with the way Mendenhall runs, he may never be the same after the knee injury.

  • Intropy

    I agree with a lot of what you wrote about a receiving back being important. But Mendenhall hasn’t shown that’s what he is. I would say that’s the weakest part of his game. If anything, in the relatively small sample size we have, Redman has shown more in that respect than Mendenhall has. What Mendenhall is great at, and what the Steelers would miss the most, is that he’s an every-style back who can run over a guy, or make a guy miss with a nifty cut, or just plain beat him to the edge with speed.

  • dan

    I believe Redman and perhaps some of the other RBs on the roster could be good starting backs, but I’m not certain. What I am certain about is that Mendenhall is not a good starting RB. Although he’s had a few good runs in the past, I only remember one out of 228 attempts this year. It would be generous to call him average. He has average power, average elusiveness and average speed. If he is faster after knee surgery (seems a bit unlikely) then he might be worth another try in 2012. But he’s had four seasons to prove himself and he has not. It might be reasonable to keep him for depth, but I’d rather save the $2mil in cap space. Especially if somebody might give us a 5th or 6th round draft choice in a trade.

  • Ron Jammes

    They will miss Mendenhall immensely, he is a big time back. Redman is not nearly as versatile and they better draft a RB or sign a UFA. Remember Redman has only one start and is not used to getting pounded.

  • Man532

    I will say this, I’m really looking foward to seeing what Baron Batch can do as a receiver. However, this all dependent on our play ground QB whoe prefers not to throw to RB’s.

  • Man532

    Also, I’m tired of seeing Mendenall dance, dance, and dance some more before going down for a 2 yard loss. Also, check the holes that he has had to run through on his long runs. The line did a wonderful job, which doesn’t happen often on any offense. Plain and simple Redman makes the hole and Mendenhall looks for the hole.

  • FranDillon828

    I feel like your sleeping on redman and his potential. most people dont know that when he started against denver in the playoffs, he had 17 Carries For 121 Yards!! thats 7.1 yards a carry and i feel way more comfortable with him in the redzone than mendenhall too. if we need a catching/ fast running back, we have baron batch who didnt get to start last year due to an acl injury. the steelers are fine at rb, we just need an ilb,g,nt.

  • Kingmagyar

    Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati
    Height: 5-10. Weight: 197.
    40 Time: 4.41. 10-Yd Split: 1.50

    Problem solved. Thunder (Redman) and Lightning (Pead)

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I can’t agree with this opinion. Sorry. Both RBs had 18 catches out of the backfield last year. While I agree having a RB who can catch the ball and is actually thought of in the offense would be great, but I don’t think Mendenhall would be that guy.

    What I DO think we are going to see is a more 2012 type offense where more than 1 RB is used as the primary back. Haley has done this in the past with both KC and Arizona. NE does it to complete effectiveness, while they have one guy who is the primary guy, they still find roles for other guys on the field. They are constantly switching to take advantage of the players skill set.

    Redman, Dwyer, and Clay all have the ability to carry it into the pile. Batch I think can replace Moore. I expect we see 2-3 more guys brought in either through the draft, UFA or UDFA. We will want depth at the position and Haley will try to find ways to take advantage of each player’s skill set.

  • Wdmason

    What everyone is forgetting is Redman had his chance to start in a game before Denver, and he did nothing. I love Redman but we still dont know how he will play as the featured back. I would much prefer to keep Mendenhall on the bench in case Redman falters.

  • Wdmason

    I dont believe your stats are correct. That sounds like his stats before the Tennessee game were Redman started and ran 15 times for 49 yards, a decent 3.3 yd. avg. but nothing to write home about. Mendenhall has a 4.1 season avg. Actually Dwyer ran for 107 yards, in the same game, getting 76 on his first carry, remember?

    Redman looked good in the Denver game even though he appeared to run out of gas at the goal line. He doesnt seem to have that second gear. And one good game does not make him a starter. If that were true, Dwyer would be our man.

    I love Redman and his style of play and I hope he can find that extra boost of speed. Im looking forward to seeing him run with Mendenhall sitting on the bench.

  • Dan

    Sad to say, I was always happy when Mendenhall made it back to the line of scrimmage.

    I’ve bashed so Rashard enough now, so his defense I guess we should acknowledge this wasn’t exactly our best year in terms of quality on the O-line.

    Now shall we take a tangential path and revisit his comments on Osama & 9/11. 🙂

  • He tore it up against Denver though, he just wasn’t used much.

  • Heathicus

    Mendenhall hardly has any explosiveness and is sluggish to get the outside.

    You are severely overrating him.

  • Heathicus

    Also, in all this talk about pass-catching RBs, you forgot to mention that Redman is a better receiving threat than Mendenhall. Better hands, breaks more tackles, and is actually open for Roethlisberger to throw to occasionally (unlike Mendenhall).

    Redman is also a better passblocker and that’s not debatable.

  • bpeoples

    Am I the only one hoping that Baron Batch is the guy next year? He looked so strong last year prior to his injury, and has had a year to learn what it takes to be a Steeler. He is a great athlete, person, and intelligent. I think he’s the Antonio Brown of RB’s this year.

  • John k

    Don’t know what your watching but his two longest runs this year were phenomenal on his part. Small hole on the 68 yarder against the jags (he actually had to turn sideways to squeeze through it) and although the line did a good job for his 52 yarder against the rams, he did an excellent job to elude defenders and get an extra 30 to 40 yards. Redman would have gotten 15 yards on that play, as he would have tried to plow a defender instead of eluding him and getting dragged down. Just because an RB runs hard doesn’t make him great. I mean, the guy is going to be 28 years old next season and finally getting the lead back role on a team due to an injury. Can’t be too excited for that. Lets go Batch!

  • Rich

    I am a NFL analysis , I have been for 17 years. I have always loved the steel, way back to the Franco Harris and Bradshaw era. Looking at Redmans running style vs. the rest of the teams RB’s I have to admit I haven’t been more excited to watch a man carry a ball other than JB, as well as Marion Barber. Im not saying these 2 are comparable so lets not jump the gun. What I am saying is that all 3 of these men play the game with heart and conviction. And all 3 have a nose for the first down marker and end zones. Nitty gritty turf digging football is what the steelers have always showed us, and what we learned to love. Watching a running back stand a Line backer up was intense and kept us all on the edge of our seats. The game took a major turn and styles switched when Barry Sanders and E. Smith ran outside and broke major yardage twisting ankles. Sorry to sound politically incorrect, but that’s what these new style running backs are trying to be. And I honestly dont see anything close to B. Sanders, or E.Smith on the field. The closest comparison I see (and im sure I’ll see major debate here) is LeSean Mcoy. If your not a Eagles fan, you dont have to be to see this man has pure talent, he may just be under the wrong coach. As far as Redman I have seen this style over and over again and each and every team with this style has had quite a bit of success. Dont believe me ? Look at all 80’s and 90’s Super bowl teams, and watch there season. Its the men who can bury the ball deep in there gut, lower their shoulder and get those 4 needed yards to keep the drive alive. Redman is our man,and I think you will all be surprised when he wins and holds onto the leading roll.