By Teresa Varley
Thursday night in Carolina will be a final chance for starters to sharpen their skills before the regular season starts, but it will also be the last opportunity for some younger players to make a case for a roster spot.
One of those players is rookie running back Isaac Redman.
Redman, who signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in April, has made a splash so far during training camp and the preseason as the team's goal line back. He had a three and a five-yard touchdown run against the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener after getting plenty of attention during goal line drills in training camp.
"It was definitely a great experience and opportunity, especially since I did well when I got the opportunity to do it," said Redman. "That opened the door for me to have a chance to make the team. They saw I was pretty good on goal line. But that's not all they need me to do. But having that goal line and the opportunity in the game it got them to open their eyes to see that maybe this guy can be our goal line back, let's see what he can do."
He is going to have to do more than that to earn that roster spot.
Coach Mike Tomlin called Redman into his office last week and told him just that. Tomlin let the young back know that he is going to have to be able to contribute in multiple areas to make the team and that means special teams will be a key.
Tomlin compared his role to that of Gary Russell last year when he was the goal line back but also a consistent contributor on special teams.
"It said something that he would take the time out of his day to sit me down and try to get me to understand what it is they need me to do and how they need me to play on special teams," said Redman. "That was the biggest key about the meeting. He took out some film on Gary Russell from last year and said this is a guy who made a mark as a short down back, but he also played special teams and was an exceptional back on special teams. He wanted me to do that and have that enthusiasm running down on special teams."
Redman has put more focus on special teams since his chat with Tomlin and will get a real test against the Panthers when he starts on punt team.
"My main focus is to get down there fast and play fast," said Redman. "It's going to take a lot of work. I haven't really played kickoff. I am going to do anything they ask me to do.
"The biggest thing I need to do is go down and make some tackles on kickoff team and punt team. That is going to be a big key to go down there make a tackle, not get blocked, make a big play and open up some eyes on special teams. That is the biggest key right now for me as far as staying or going home."
There is nothing Redman wants more than to stay, especially being a long shot from the get-go. The Steelers were the only team that gave him a chance after the draft and he knew it would be a challenge coming to the defending Super Bowl champions.
"It's crazy. You are on the best team in the world," said Redman. "You are a guy that nobody wanted. A lot of people looked at me as just a body. You are coming in trying to make the best team in the world and you are undrafted. It's tough. Every day is a challenge. I just try to come out here and work hard every day."
And he has plenty of motivation. All he has to do is look at fellow running back Willie Parker who made the Steelers roster as a rookie free agent as well.
"It helps a lot to know this team, if they see a free agent they will give him a shot," said Redman. "During OTA's at the rookie meetings, Coach Tomlin came to all of the rookies and said there is a Willie Parker in this group and we are going to find him. If he is here, we are going to find him.
"From that day on I just wanted to try to be that guy."