Updated:PITTSBURGH (AP) (AP)strong>
Now that he's become their starting running back, Pittsburgh Steelers coaches can laugh about how Isaac Redman tanked in his first impression during an NFL training camp.
As a nervous undrafted rookie from Division II Bowie State three years ago, Redman almost failing the annual first-day-of-camp conditioning test wasn't as funny.
"I was out of shape," Redman recalled on Sunday at St. Vincent College. "I didn't really look like too much."
Within two weeks, though, Redman was evolving into one of the stars of training camp. Three years after that, Redman is in line to start the Steelers' season opener in Denver Sept. 9.
Redman has gradually worked his way up the Pittsburgh depth chart and, with starter Rashard Mendenhall on the physically unable to perform list while he continues recovery from a torn ACL, Redman has gone from longshot, unknown rookie to featured back.
"It's just crazy how time changes," Redman said.
As poor as Redman's performance was during that conditioning test on the afternoon he reported to his first NFL training camp, all was soon forgotten among coaches and fans when Redman quickly showed his skill for getting into the end zone.
The 6-foot, 230-pound Redman scored five times in a goal-line drill during a practice that was open to the public early during his 2009 rookie training camp. He scored two touchdowns in the preseason opener for the Steelers, who were then the defending Super Bowl champions.
The career rushing leader at Bowie State, Redman didn't make Pittsburgh's active roster that season but was signed to the practice squad and dressed for one game.
"Fast forward to now, and ... I'm here coming in as No. 1 on the depth chart," Redman said. "I feel like a totally different player, I feel like a professional. I'm taking on a leadership role in the running back room, guys are looking up to me. When I came in I was looking up to Willie Parker and Rashard and those guys, Mewelde (Moore). And now I got a bunch of young guys looking at me for advice."
Behind Redman on the depth chart are youngsters Jonathan Dwyer (eight career games), John Clay (two games), rookie Chris Rainey and second-year Baron Batch, who tore an ACL early in his rookie training camp last year.
Redman briefly was knocked out of practice Sunday, shaken up after a block. The Steelers' most physical back, Redman's early goal-line prowess was a sign of things to come.
"It takes a team to hit that guy," linebacker LaMarr Woodley said.
"You can't just think that when you hit him he's falling down, because he's spinning and fighting for extra yards."
Redman made his first career start last season, but it wasn't until Mendenhall went down in the regular-season finale at Cleveland on Jan. 1. He had a career-high 92 rushing yards and a touchdown, but the best was yet to come.
Making his first career postseason start the following week at Denver, Redman became just the fourth undrafted running back to rush for more than 100 yards in a playoff game.
Redman's game-high 121 yards on 17 carries perhaps was a factor in Steelers management's decision not to pursue a veteran running back over the offseason. Even with Mendenhall's status in limbo for the start of the season, Pittsburgh let Moore go.
With only a young stable of inexperienced backs behind him, the message was clear: The Steelers have faith in Redman to carry the load.
"Coming from Bowie State, nobody really even thought that I would amount to anything here, so I know any good that I did would probably spark a lot of people," Redman said. "It was a lot easier to impress people then. Now, coming in, everybody's looking at me to be a No. 1 back and all eyes are on me, so it's kind of different from when I first came in until now."
Redman irked some veteran teammates three years ago when he spiked the ball after a touchdown during a goal-line drill as a rookie. He earned their respect through his work ethic, aggressive running style and commitment to the dirtier aspects of his job such as blocking.
"He sees the hole, he hits the hole, and he runs hard," tight end Heath Miller said. "And I think that's infectious about the whole offense when you see a guy that runs this hard and fights for every yard as hard as he does."
During a "backs-on-'backers" drill Saturday, coaches lined up the "main event" finale as Redman vs. Woodley, who is one of the game's premier pass-rushers. Woodley conceded that, under a format that can be trying on a running back, Redman held his own.
"I don't think people fully realize he was a former state champion in wrestling," cornerback Ike Taylor said of Redman. "So he's hard to bring down. And he's got that 'man mentality.'
"Isaac is just, in a word, tough."