Le'Veon Bell is hurt, Jonathan Dwyer is gone and Isaac Redman is ready to show he can be the Steelers' next workhorse halfback.
No coaches told him their plans at halfback for the opener Sunday against Tennessee at Heinz Field, but Redman assumes he will start and wants to erase any thoughts they might have of rotating backs the way they did in 2012.
"I go out there with the first team, do the first four reps, that's normally what the starter does," Redman said after practice Monday. "I'm just preparing as I'm the starter until they tell me otherwise."
Dwyer, the team's leading rusher in their spin-the-bottle approach to halfback last season, was waived Saturday in part because his coaches did not feel he took his job seriously enough. Bell is out indefinitely with a foot sprain. The Steelers acquired Felix Jones in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles 11 days ago, and LaRod Stephens-Howling returned last week from a sprained MCL.
"I'm going to try to make it hard for them to take me out," Redman said. "If everything holds up and I stay healthy, I plan to go out there and perform, not wanting them to put anyone else in the game."
With Rashard Mendenhall out with a knee injury, Redman also started the opener last season. He believes things are different this time.
"Last year, coming into the opener, I kind of knew it was going to be two series and Dwyer would go in for two series," Redman said. "Right now, I'm really not sure what's going on but I feel they might be leaning more toward letting me carry the load until they want somebody else in or if I'm not performing well. But I feel like I'm ready to go out there and perform at a high level."
Redman ran 11 times for 20 yards in that opener at Denver last season and did not get more than 13 carries in any of the first five games as the Steelers bounced between him and Dwyer and then added Mendenhall to the mix in the fourth game.
The backs had no chance to get any rhythm.
In addition, Redman missed two games with a sprained ankle. When he finally got his full shot because everyone else was hurt, he carried 26 times for 147 yards on the road against the New York Giants. He started the next game against Kansas City, but his fumble led to a Chiefs field goal, and coach Mike Tomlin replaced him with Dwyer for the second half.
"The games I've been able to stay in for the entire game, I've done very well," Redman said. "Not to make an excuse, but it's hard to carry the ball maybe two series and then Dwyer goes in for two series and then you go in at halftime and maybe the defense is out there. You look up and you haven't carried the ball in a while, and it's hard to stay in that rhythm."
Redman played in just the first preseason game and carried twice. A shoulder stinger or pinched nerve kept him out of the second game, and the Steelers decided not to play him in the final two, either. Redman said he could have played if they had been regular-season games and now he's healthy.
"I've been in good shape. Getting 20, 25 carries, I don't feel will be a problem for me. I've been in tip-top shape since March, so I don't think that's a problem."
Bell's foot improves
This will be the third week that Bell will miss with a small torn ligament in his right foot. The diagnosis was he would miss four to six weeks.
"I'm out of the boot. I've been trying to jog and do little foot workouts. I'm not going to rush this process. I'm going to just take my time with it and make sure I'm back 100 percent."
Bell said the knee that was injured earlier in training camp and kept him out of the second preseason game has healed. "I'm going to try to get back by week two, but I'm not making any promises."
More work for Miller
Removing tight end Heath Miller from the physically unable to perform list also removed the restrictions he was under by NFL rules, which do not permit those on PUP to participate in any team drills.
"It's the next step in the process," Miller said. "I'm getting closer and closer to being where I want to be, so that's a good thing. I can be more part of the team."
Miller, overcoming triple knee ligament tears from the 15th game of last season, said he still could not answer the question of when he will return to play.
"I know Coach is going to keep everybody up to date as the week goes along, but I'm still keeping the same mindset, trying to make improvements every day so when the time comes I'm fully ready to go."
Told that SI.com rated the NFL's top five defenses and the Steelers weren't among them, safety Ryan Clark said, "There are not a lot of running backs and receivers who I think go into a week saying 'I can't wait to play the Pittsburgh Steelers.' "
• The Steelers elected Clark and Brett Keisel as defensive captains, Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey as offensive captains. No special-teams captain was chosen.
• Tight end Matt Spaeth can go on the injured reserve/designated-to-return list after 4 p.m. today, when the 53-man roster becomes official. Once he goes on, he can (but does not have to) return to practice a minimum of six weeks (not games) later but not return to the roster until after eight weeks. Once he practices, the Steelers have a maximum of 21 days to decide whether to put him on the roster or keep him on IR for the entire season. They will have another opening on their roster, once Spaeth goes on that designated IR list.
• Guard/center Cody Wallace, acquired Sunday, will wear No. 72.
First Published September 3, 2013 4:00 AM