Intrigue is swirling about the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp today as word came out, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette, that starting running back Isaac Redman would undergo an MRI to determine the extent of a groin injury that has been nagging him as of late.
That's why it didn't seem particularly strange that offensive coordinator Todd Haley appeared to play dumb when asked about Redman, saying that he wasn't aware of an MRI being scheduled and that he expected Redman on the practice field and participating on Wednesday.
However, it appears both versions of reality are true—Redman has an MRI scheduled for Thursday, and though he may be in pain, the Steelers must not be anticipating it to reveal a serious injury because he was indeed in pads and on the field for Wednesday's afternoon practice.
Things didn't look so good for Redman on the practice field. He kept getting hit and staying down, which is not a good sign. Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Redman went off the field and did not return after visibly appearing to be in pain.
So on one hand, the Steelers felt good enough about Redman to put off his MRI until tomorrow and let him suit up and practice. On the other, Redman clearly was in no shape to practice and perhaps the MRI will reveal a serious injury. Either way, this isn't a good situation for the Steelers' run game.
Redman, as we all know, was set to be the Steelers' starting running back while Rashard Mendenhall continues rehabbing from winter ACL surgery. Heading into camp, the Steelers had five backs on their roster: Redman, John Clay, Baron Batch, Jonathan Dwyer and Chris Rainey.
As of today, there is just Redman, who is hurt, Dwyer, who just returned to the field in a limited capacity after dealing with a lingering shoulder injury, Batch, who didn't have a strong showing in his first preseason game, and Rainey, whose size limits his ability to contribute in the blocking game.
Clay was put on injury waivers earlier in the week, replaced by Jason Ford, who is in competition with Will Johnson at fullback more than he's in the mix to be a traditional running back in Pittsburgh this year.
Though we have yet to learn the extent of Redman's injury, and though Mendenhall will likely be ready to take the field near mid-season, the present state of the Steelers' running back corps leaves a lot to be desired.
Dwyer is a bruiser, but he's certainly not shifty or fast. Batch has some talent in that area, but didn't make much of it against the Philadelphia Eagles last week (he carried the ball 19 times for 41 yards, with a 2.2 yard per carry average) and is very much a work-in-progress. Rainey is the most intriguing, shifty and fast back on the roster, but his other limitations make it almost impossible for him to take over the majority of Redman's carries.
As such, none of the three seem to have the necessary tools to be a starting, every-down running back for the Steelers this year, and though Redman didn't exactly have that talent either, he's certainly the very best option the team had at the position.
At this rate, the Steelers can only move to a true committee of running backs to have success on the ground. Luckily for Pittsburgh, they have Todd Haley as their offensive coordinator, and this approach is something he's quite familiar with.
However, that doesn't quell the fact that Redman's injury is deeply disconcerting. On paper, a committee of Dwyer, Batch and Rainey seems like it could be effective; however, there's a reason the three were low on the depth chart heading into training camp. Now, with limited time, these backs will have to be developed as though each are starters in their own ways.
In a season in which the Steelers were anticipated to get back to the run in one form or another, this Redman injury represents an unwanted setback, to say the least. Now, even more emphasis will have to be put on the quick-passing game and the hopes that Rainey, Dwyer and Batch can up their play enough to not put the Steelers' ability to run the ball this season in serious doubt.
Their first test comes against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. Clearly, the backs will be getting a lot of attention, as it seems as though this triage unit of backs could very well carry the Steelers into the beginning of the regular season.
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