On the Steelers: Redman emerges as force, creates 1-2 RB punch
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Bruce Arians tried it a few times in the past and quickly abandoned the idea of a Pony backfield using two runners at the same time because one or the other just could not or would not block, and there has been no sighting of its return at Saint Vincent College this summer.
Maybe it deserves a revisit.
Isaac Redman has shown himself to be a runner and receiver who will not be denied since he burst into the hearts and minds of the fans, the media and, eventually, the coaching staff in the goal-line drills at Latrobe two years ago. Now, he looks like an accomplished, strong 240-pound halfback who produces every chance he gets, as he did Friday night in Landover, Md.
Among many Steelers disappointments against the Redskins, Redman again was a beacon. He ran hard, broke tackles, and gained 42 yards on five carries that included a 22-yard run for a touchdown -- all against Washington's first-team defense.
This is the player who made Troy Polamalu's miracle sack/fumble in Baltimore count when he caught a short third-down pass and turned it into the winning, 9-yard touchdown in which he would not be denied. He averaged 4.8 yards on 52 carries last season, added another 50 yards on seven carries in the postseason and caught 10 passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns.
It is unlikely Arians, the offensive coordinator, will pair Redman and Rashard Mendenhall in the same backfield, but he will not hesitate to use Redman, who has won over all his coaches' confidences the past two seasons. His development gives the Steelers a 1-2 punch they did not have a few years ago.
"He pretty much has the speed, power and can get around the edge," Redman said of Mendenhall. "You got a guy like me who can pound it in there and wear a defense down. You got a guy like him who can pretty much do both. That's a pretty good combination for a defense to have to handle."
And, if the Steelers strike out on landing a No. 2 tight end, they always could put H-back David Johnson on the line and try a little trick pony once in a while.
The Steelers are not known to consider this, but, if they fail to convince 34-year-old Reggie Kelly to become their No. 2 tight end and if they feel squeamish about moving Johnson there or putting rookie Weslye Saunders there, a simple solution might be at hand -- re-sign Trai Essex as their No. 2 tight end.
Johnson did not look comfortable when they used him on the line of scrimmage against the Redskins. They love him at fullback and are trying to see if he can block adequately on a regular basis near the line of scrimmage.
Their second tight end rarely catches passes or runs routes. Matt Spaeth did little other than block except when Heath Miller did not play. So, why not just put a tackle at the No. 2 tight end spot?
They have used tackles, including Essex, in those positions on occasion, especially near the goal line. Other teams have done it. Baltimore does it with an unbalanced line. Essex need not learn all the routes Miller and Spaeth learned, and, if something were to happen to Miller, they would have to go to four and five wide-receiver sets more often.
It also does not have to be Essex. It could be Tony Hills or Chris Scott (if he is not the starting right guard). The No. 2 tight end virtually has been a tackle, so just put a tackle there and call him a tight end. Problem solved.
Among the few other positive signs gleaned from the Steelers' 16-7 loss to Washington was this: Punter Daniel Sepulveda is back, perhaps with a vengeance. After his ACL was torn for the second time in the past three seasons Dec. 5, it appeared his Steelers career might end, especially when he remained unsigned as a free agent before the lockout. It was his third ACL tear since it happened to him in 2006 at Baylor.
One important fact aided Sepulveda: The injuries were to his right, plant leg, not his kicking leg. Friday in Landover, he kicked for the first time in a game since the latest injury and did so spectacularly -- four punts averaging 51 net yards with the longest covering 62.
"I never heard of anybody punting after three ACLs in their kicking leg," Sepulveda said, as if anyone had heard of anyone punting after three ACLs in any leg. "For me, this thing's essentially a peg leg anyway. It doesn't slow me down at all."
Sepulveda's injury came when he tried to make a tackle at Buffalo. He said he will not be shy about tackling again, but will be more judicious in situations such as Friday night, when he did not stick his nose into returnman Brandon Banks when he returned a first-period punt 19 yards.
"If it comes down to me putting my body at risk and us winning the game, I'm going to do what it takes to win the game," Sepulveda said. "That being said, you can be smarter about it. When [Banks] started to come around the end, the thought [of tackling him] crossed my mind. I'm backing up and making sure he goes out of bounds rather than stick my face in there maybe like when I was younger. The maturation process is taking place."
Now that the Steelers have signed veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, how do they use him?
Word from New York is Cotchery did not want to be the third option with the Jets and asked for his release. His option number with the Steelers will be lower unless Emmanuel Sanders' foot does not heal quickly and properly (however, it appears that it has, and he might resume practice this week), or there is another injury to a wide receiver. Cotchery, basically, replaces Antwaan Randle El, who, surprisingly, did not retain much of the offense when he rejoined the Steelers and was a disappointment. Randle El began last season as the No. 3 wide receiver behind Mike Wallace and Hines Ward. He fell to No. 4 when Sanders came on and eventually fell behind Antonio Brown, too.
Cotchery, a slot receiver, makes no sense at No. 3 behind Wallace and Ward if Sanders is healthy. He could be used in the slot when they go to four wide receivers, but that would be at the expense of Antonio Brown, who has taken a big step from a rookie season that showed great promise. Cotchery's signing seems more of a fallback position in case someone is injured, Sanders does not heal or there is a surprising lack of production from someone.