Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin, left, talks with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the first half of an NFL preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
PITTSBURGH — Isaac Redman could do the math. Nearing final cuts on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers fifth-year running back looked at the crowded depth chart and figured somebody’s feelings were going to get hurt.
“I know that somebody had to go,” Redman said. “After being around here for a while, you understand how it goes, and I knew somebody had to go this year.”
And despite missing the final two games of the preseason while recovering from a neck injury, it wasn’t Redman.
Instead, the Steelers cut Jonathan Dwyer — the team’s leading rusher in 2012 — and handed Redman the starting job for the season opener against Tennessee on Sunday while second-round pick Le’Veon Bell works his way back from a sprained right foot.
“We know what Isaac is capable of,” coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. “He’s answered the bell for us in the past and we expect him to do it in a big way moving forward starting this weekend.”
When healthy, Redman can be a force. He ran for 410 yards and two scores last year and played well in a 26-23 loss to the Titans, catching four passes for 105 yards. Ankle problems, however, kept Redman from establishing himself as the starter. He rumbled for 147 yards a touchdown in a victory over the New York Giants — the high water mark of an 8-8 season — but went right back to the sidelines after getting knicked up again.
Redman slimmed down to 230 pounds over the winter, believing more quickness would also make him more durable. That part remains to be seen. Redman sustained a stinger during training camp and carried the ball two times during the entire preseason.
Though Tomlin insists Redman will be “spelled” by newly acquired Felix Jones and third-down specialist LaRod Stephens-Howling, Redman thinks a steady dose of carries will help him get into a rhythm.
“The games that I’ve been able to stay in the whole entire game, I’ve done very well,” he said. “It’s just, well, I’m not going to make an excuse. But it’s hard to carry the ball twice, maybe two series, then Dwyer go in for two series.”
That won’t be an issue anymore after the Steelers cut the only running back who managed to stay out of the trainer’s room during August. Yet Dwyer’s weight fluctuations and questionable conditioning apparently made him expendable. Tomlin declined to elaborate on the decision to release Dwyer, instead pointing to the drafting of Bell and the additions of Jones and Stephens-Howling.
“We like the guys that we kept and really our focus is on those guys,” he said.
Even if Bell will not be one of “those guys” on Sunday. While Bell is out of a walking boot after injuring the foot in a preseason loss to Washington last month, Tomlin ruled Bell out this weekend and remained vague about any real timetable for the rookie’s return.
“Young guys like him have to practice in order to be able to participate,” Tomlin said. “At the very best, he would be a partial participant this week.”
The same goes for veteran tight end Heath Miller. The two-time Pro Bowler was activated off the Physically Unable to Perform List over the weekend but Tomlin wants to see how Miller’s body responds to the increased workload before making any sort of decision on Miller’s availability.
While Bell and Miller are questionable, rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones appears ready to make his NFL debut. Jones sat out last week’s preseason finale with a bruised chest but the first-round pick will see plenty of time backing up Jason Worilds and LaMarr Woodley.
Tomlin remains concerned about the special teams, a weakness during Pittsburgh’s winless exhibition season. Neither incumbent Drew Butler or three-time Pro Bowler Brian Moorman distinguished themselves and while Butler survived the final cuts, the victory was short lived when the Steelers signed former New England Patriot punter Zoltan Mesko on Monday.
“He is a high-pedigree guy, one that was highly regarded out of Michigan, a fifth-round pick,” Tomlin said. “He’s a long guy, a left-footer. He is no stranger to the elements, having kicked in New England in the professional ranks and at the University of Michigan in college ... All those things were attractive to us.”
NOTES: The Steelers placed TE Matt Spaeth (foot) on the injured reserve/return list on Tuesday afternoon. Spaeth will be eligible to come off the list after the eighth week of the regular season, which concludes on Oct. 28. Pittsburgh filled Spaeth’s spot on the 53-man roster by activating LB Terence Garvin from the practice squad.
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