Three years after Mike Tomlin ran Willie Parker until his wheels came off, he will take a more prudent approach with his new horse at running back.
Rashard Mendenhall, who emerged from Tomlin's doghouse to lead the Steelers with 1,108 yards rushing last season, will start and also serve as the prime third-down back, as he did for the second half of last season.
Holding down those two jobs on a team that does not have another back with a strong pedigree and has acknowledged a need to pay more attention to the ground game can mean overwork. Ask Parker, whose leg was broken on his 321st carry of the 2007 season, a season that began with Tomlin saying he would run Parker until his wheels came off. Tomlin, in his first season as Steelers coach then, might have learned something from the experience. He said Monday that Isaac Redman will get the first chances in short yardage and that Redman and veteran Mewelde Moore will be used if Tomlin determines Mendenhall is being overused.
"Rashard is our feature runner. He's good in about all circumstances you put him in. He's had a good training camp and preseason. He's good with the ball in his hands, he's good with the blitz pickup out of the backfield. We like how his game is shaping up in that it's well-rounded. He's an emerging player. He's becoming a veteran player. We're going to call on him."
"We are going to monitor his touches simply because that's the appropriate thing to do this early in the season. He is going to be in; he is capable of staying in on third downs. But, of course, we're also capable of inserting a Mewelde Moore or even an Isaac Redman for that matter.
"We're going to be thoughtfully non-rhythmic here as we get started but for different reasons, one to preserve Rashard to be inclusive to the contributions of those men."
Redman earned a nickname of "Red Zone" in the preseason as a rookie for his ability to gain the short yards needed for first downs or touchdowns, yet he did not make the team in '09. He continued his progress this summer to the point he will be given that role.
"Isaac Redman is going to have an opportunity to be featured in that area," Tomlin said.
"He's been very good in that area in the two-plus years he has been here, largely in preseason. We are going to give him the opportunity to see if he can excel."
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