Many words have been written about Isaac Redman on this site, detailing his amazing super powers and suchlike. But this article is a serious look at the real Isaac Redman, the RB who is the heir presumptive to Rashard Mendenhall's temporarily vacated throne.
Isaac Redman started his tenure as a Steeler as a fan favorite rather than a coaches' favorite, but in the ensuing years has matured greatly as a player. Early struggles with conditioning and effort are long past. But those struggles were only part of a long process for Redman, a process filled with obstacles which at times made a career in the NFL seem vastly improbable. As unpleasant as they must have been, they have made him the player and the man he is now.
The first, and worst, obstacle was his arrest at age 18. Redman had just won the New Jersey state wrestling championship and was the star running back at his high school. He had a scholarship offer from Temple, and seemed to be on top of the world. But an encounter with an underage girl after a party led to a charge of sexual assault, and he faced a possible 20 years of jail time. Fortunately for him, his mother believed in him and wouldn't give up. She lost her car, her house, and her husband in the pursuit of justice for Isaac, and eventually it paid off. A plea deal kept him out of jail. But Temple withdrew the scholarship offer, purportedly because of his low SAT scores, and lost along with the scholarship was, seemingly, the hope of a career in the NFL.
Fortunately, a cousin knew someone who knew someone, as such things go, and Bowie State decided to give Redman a chance. He took it, his freshman year. He studied hard, worked hard, trained hard, and had a spectacular season. As this article details:
Redman led the team that year, rushing for over 1,500 yards and becoming known as a tough, aggressive runner.
But unfortunately his resolve seemed to crumble the following year, and his sophomore season was sufficiently disappointing to get him benched the next season.
A teammate of Redman's, Steven Bailey, said that people had lost faith in the talent Redman showed entering Bowie in 2004. "He just seemed like he fell off... like he wasn't working out or keeping in shape at all," Bailey said.
The back replacing him that year was not as good a player, but he was reliable. He graduated at the end of the year, leaving the field to Isaac Redman once more. Although Redman played well, injuries cut his junior season short. In his final (fifth) year at Bowie State he still struggled with his weight and conditioning, and did not amass much in the way of impressive statistics.
Educators say the best predictor of a student's performance in college is their performance in high school. NFL teams look at a player's performance in college to try to predict how he might perform in the NFL. It behooves someone who is determined to have a career in the NFL, as Redman said he was, to use his college time to full advantage. Isaac Redman gathered the bitter fruit of his uneven college career by going undrafted.
But once again fate intervened, this time in the form of the wife of Todd McNair, with whom Redman went to work out. McNair's wife happened to be Redman's mother's niece, and McNair happened to know Bruce Arians. He sent Arians some game film of Redman and asked him to watch it. As a result Redman was invited to a mini-camp and eventually to the 2009 training camp. Some impressive runs in the preseason garnered him the name of "Redzone Redman" and the undying affection of Steeler Nation. But the coaches weren't convinced. He still struggled with his weight and his conditioning, and the Turk came for a visit.
After he cleared waivers Redman was signed to the practice squad. But as this article tells it:
Despite the fact the team kept him around, he felt like he failed, like he had blown his NFL shot, that he had failed his mother and Bowie and everyone who had taken the chance on him.
Determined to give it his best, Redman worked hard during the 2010 offseason, and it showed. He made the roster in 2010, and this time he didn't take it for granted. He played well in the opportunities he was given, including scoring a touchdown in the second 2010 Ravens game when, apparently, he wasn't supposed to be the back on the field. But somebody sent him out instead of Mewelde Moore, and he snagged a Roethlisberger short pass, broke a tackle or two, and bulled his way into the end zone.
Despite his promising 2010 season, Redman still had limited carries—certainly not as many as a lot of Steeler Nation thought he should—but he made the most of the ones he got. And after Rashard Mendenhall went down in the last regular-season game, Redman was named the starter for the Wild Card game in Denver. His performance was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise depressing game.
In an interview with Teresa Varley on Steelers.com four days after the game, Redman was subdued, and expressed his disappointment at not "bringing one home for Coach Kirbs." He was on his way to visit Kirby at the hospital, where the coach was recovering from extensive burns sustained in a kitchen fire. Redman talked about how different it was not having Coach Kirby on the sideline, and how he was thinking about him the whole game.
Every time I got the ball I just wanted to give it my all, so whenever he gets well and able to look back at that game, I just wanted him to say "This guy really played his heart out for me."
The 2012 season brings a new challenge and a new opportunity for Redman. The primary RB spot is currently vacant. Various people from the organization, including Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert, have expressed confidence in Redman's ability to be the starting RB. Furthermore, they not only said it, but they didn't attempt to pick up a running back in the draft until the 5th round. The one they did pick up is not a traditional between-the-tackles back. They must have really meant what they said.
Redman not only has the confidence of the coaches and the front office—he has the confidence of the man he will presumably replace for the time being. (from NFL.com)
"Isaac is a great player," Mendenhall said. "The way he works and prepares and even coming from where he came from, being undrafted to where he is now."
In the interview after the Denver game, Teresa Varley asked Isaac Redman what was the most positive thing he took away from the 2011 season. He said, "Looking at this team, looking at all the things we've been through, so many injuries—we've seen so many guys battle and fight back from injuries. We've seen guys step up for other guys that have been injured—just to see the fight in all the guys, guys like John Clay, who's been on the practice squad... You look at these guys and you understand that everybody is willing to really put their hand in the pile and help this team win by any means necessary."
I think one could say the same for Isaac Redman. He's fought his way back from many wounds, largely self-inflicted. Such self-inflicted wounds are perhaps more difficult to come back from than more traditional injuries. But tough as they are, they are also a great revealer of the basic character of a man. Redman has found within himself the ability to take a hit and get back up, and he appears to be ready for this opportunity, nine years in the making. Steeler Nation will be cheering him on, along with his biggest fan—the mother who believed in him through thick and thin.