PITTSBURGH - Forget about the quarterbacks for a moment.
The real focus on offense for the Steelers this season should be on their running game.
How the Steelers handle Ben Roethlisberger's four-game regular-season suspension with the use of Byron Leftwich and/or Dennis Dixon has been the main topic of interest at training camp this month, as expected.
What may be getting somewhat overlooked is the fact that the Steelers don't appear to be too deep at running back, and they'll need a strong running game for those first four games without Roethlisberger. Second-year free-agent back Isaac Redman took a few steps in the right direction with a strong performance Saturday night in the team's first preseason game of 2010 against the Detroit Lions at a rainy Heinz Field.
Team president Art Rooney II said in the offseason that he wanted to see the Steelers get back to being more of a running team. From 1992-2007, the Steelers were ranked in the top 12 in the NFL in rushing 15 of those 16 years - 2003's 6-10 season was the exception when the Steelers went with Tommy Maddox's "Tommy Gun'' offense.
The last two years, however, the Steelers were ranked 23rd (105.6 yards per game) and 19th (112.1 per game) in rushing. Adding to the dilemma were the offseason free-agent loss of Willie Parker and the season-ending injury of starting right tackle Willie Colon.
Rashard Mendenhall blossomed in his second season last year, rushing for 1,108 yards, but entering this year he didn't have a complement in the backfield.
In today's NFL, teams need two backs who can carry the load. Mendenhall gained just 2 net yards on five carries Saturday night, fumbled once and missed a catchable pass, but he showed a burst of speed when given a little bit of running room.
Seven-year veteran Mewelde Moore is solid in the third-down role and can occasionally spell Mendenhall, but he is not someone the Steelers want as their featured back for too long. He fumbled on his first-quarter carry Saturday.
But Redman, nicknamed "Red Zone'' after leading the Steelers in rushing during the 2009 preseason, could be the answer to the depth problem that had the Steelers so concerned they reportedly were interested in re-acquiring Parker, who has fallen to No. 4 on the Washington Redskins' depth chart.
Redman, Bowie State's all-time leading rusher, was released three different times by the Steelers last season despite his preseason success. This year he was expected to battle second-year back Frank Summers and rookie draft pick Jonathan Dwyer for Mendenhall's backup job and has enjoyed a strong camp the star of the goal-line drills.
Against the Lions' second-team defense which truthfully could be equivalent to most NFL teams' fifth units Redman gained 60 yards on 15 carries and scored on a 1-yard run right before the game was delayed for more than 1 hour due to lightning and heavy rain.
The highlight of the first half was Dixon's 51-yard pass to Arnaz Battle, which set up Redman's touchdown. But the series before, Redman broke off a nifty 31-yard run on a draw play where he spun around two defenders and ran over another to set up a field goal.
He did lose the ball on one run, and it was originally ruled a fumble but was overturned on a challenge. He also had the advantage of having three first-team offensive linemen Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu and Trai Essex - to run behind against Detroit's second stringers.
But he was already ahead of Summers, who is now being used more as a fullback, Dwyer and Justin Vincent on the depth chart and did nothing to lose that position.
And with the way he performed last preseason and in training camp this year, and the way he ran Saturday night, the Steelers' depth at running back may not be as big of a problem as one might think.
Buck Frank is the Mirror's sports editor and Steelers beat writer. He can be reached at 946-7461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.