By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Todd Haley already has answered questions about his offense without ever speaking a word publicly. There will be a fullback, there will be more passes thrown to backs, there will be an increased devotion to the running game, including in practices, and there will be a greater attempt to keep Ben Roethlisberger out of harms way.
Two practices into the month-long spring drills and players are revealing more and more about their new offense. Isaac Redman is the latest to do so; the presumptive starting halfback announced Wednesday that tight end David Johnson, who sometimes acted like a fullback in Bruce Arians' offense, has been switched to fullback fulltime.
"Yeah, there's a fullback in the offense," Redman said. "They moved David Johnson over to fullback. He's not a tight end anymore, he's strictly a fullback now."
There's even another officially listed fullback on the roster, West Virginia's Will Johnson.
While Johnson's move might sound as though it's merely a name change because he likely played fullback more often than he did tight end, the switch means something.
"That's going to help develop him," Redman said, "now that he's in our meeting rooms and being able to see what type of blocks that we have, and what type of blocks that we want from him. Instead of him being a tight end in the tight-end room and kind of doing fullback as a second job, he's strictly focusing on fullback. I think that will help him a lot."
What that means in terms of roster makeup -- two tight ends, one fullback instead of three and zero, or one fewer halfback? -- has not yet been determined, or at least revealed publicly. What it means in terms of philosophy is simple: The Steelers want a better running game that also will help their play-action passing game.
They would not appear to be dealing from strength in that matter since their horse of the past three seasons, Rashard Mendenhall, had ACL surgery in January.
But Redman and coach Mike Tomlin, among others, believe they have enough quality and quantity at halfback to make it go.
Redman will start, barring unforeseen circumstances. The others include Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay, Baron Batch and rookie Chris Rainey.
"I like all the men," Tomlin said in March, while addressing the backfield. "When given the opportunity, they've all shown that they are capable of being reasons why we win ... Isaac Redman has proven that he is a legitimate NFL running back. He is not an unknown commodity. Jonathan Dwyer has been in our program for a number of years now. He had a 100-yard game a year ago. We all are excited about Baron Batch ... John Clay got an opportunity, and all he did was score the first time he touched the ball in the NFL."
None, though, has done it on a fulltime basis in the NFL.
Redman, undrafted from Bowie State in 2009 when he was on and off the practice squad but never the 53-man roster, more than doubled his '10 rushing attempts to 110 last season. That comes to almost seven per game. Mendenhall averaged more than 20 carries in '10.
Redman said he is "getting ready to carry this load if that's what they want me to do ... Just trying to make sure I'm in tip-top shape to be called on 20-25 times a game, which I know I can handle."
He may not have to do that. Haley might have a different philosophy on using his backs, splitting things up rather than giving 300 carries to one.
But, "We kind of emphasize getting the ball to the running backs a little more this year," Redman said. "We'll see how that goes ...
"We're definitely eager to see how this thing is going to go and how the running game is going to work out. It's tough on everybody to learn a new offense and to learn a new system and new verbiage. We're just trying to get the hang of it ... This new offense is supposed to be easier on the offensive line, and we have a couple of new O-linemen coming in, so hopefully that will open it up."
Mendenhall running, but ...
Mendenhall has been on the field running in practices and said his repaired ACL is doing well.
"Everything's gotten a lot better. It's been healing well, there are no setbacks, I'm feeling great ... I talked to a lot of guys who have been through this. The way I feel now, the way it's been healing, the way I take care of my body, I'm not worried at all."
The Steelers' first-round draft choice in '08, Mendenhall's injury occurred in the final regular-season game in Cleveland last season, which ended a disappointing year for him. He missed one other game with an injury and finished with 928 yards rushing, his lowest total in his three otherwise healthy seasons after he missed most of his rookie year with a broken shoulder.
This is the final year of his contract, usually one that would involve negotiations on an extension.
With the injury and unknown status entering the '12 season, no talks are known to have taken place.
Mendenhall said there is no timetable on his return to the team.
Doctors told him recovery could be anywhere from six to 12 months. General manager Kevin Colbert said in March that Mendenhall likely would open on the physically unable to perform list.
"I haven't really thought about anything like that," Mendenhall said.
"I just focus on getting 100 percent."
Add rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu of the University of Washington to the list of draft picks unable to attend OTAs until their semesters end at school ... Cornerback Ike Taylor participated in practice Wednesday after missing the opener. ... Outside linebacker Jason Worilds (hand) is not practicing, nor is defensive end Brett Keisel (personal matter). Keisel ended the '11 season with a serious groin injury, and surgery was considered an option at one point. ... Newly minted Hall of Fame center Dermontti Dawson attended practice and is in town promoting the Washington Wild Things minor league baseball team, of which he is a minority owner.
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First Published May 24, 2012 12:00 am http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/sports/steelers/steelers-offense-is-under-construction-637341/