The Unwanteds

Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson was injured in a fire early Friday morning, leaving a motley group of inexperienced running backs to fend for themselves in Denver. But the leader of the group says they'll be all right.

PITTSBURGH – Nobody wanted these running backs in the first place.

Now, the motley, undrafted group of Isaac Redman, John Clay and Chad Spann will be on the Steelers sideline like a group of orphans after losing their position coach, Kirby Wilson, to injuries sustained in a fire at his townhouse in the Pittsburgh suburb of Seven Fields earlier in the morning.

Wilson is said to have burns on 30 percent of his body, but the injuries are not life-threatening. He will remain in the hospital as the Steelers travel to Denver.

With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger needing a running game on which to lean because of his own injury problem, the three Steelers' backs wouldn't inspire much confidence unless one has watched them closely the last couple of weeks.

Redman, for one, stepped in for Rashard Mendenhall last Sunday after Mendenhall tore his ACL on the final play of the first quarter. The second-year short-yardage specialist carried 19 times for 92 yards, both career highs.

"He's a great runner," said Steelers linebacker James Farrior. "He's a hard, tough runner and I think he's ready to step up to the plate and I think he's going to have a good day."

Mewelde Moore won't be ready behind Redman. The veteran third-down back sprained an MCL a few weeks ago and has been ruled out of Sunday's game.

No, behind Redman are rookie John Clay (10 carries, 41 yards) and rookie Chad Spann, who led the nation with 22 rushing touchdowns while at Northern Illinois in 2010. Spann was just signed off the practice squad Wednesday and will be active for his first pro game Sunday.

Together, the group has a combined total of 172 career carries, or 50 fewer than Denver's starting running back, Willis McGahee, has this season alone.

And now the motley group has lost its coach for at least Sunday's game.

"It's hard to believe what's going on in that running back room," Redman said. "But God puts certain adversity in your way for you to overcome. All my prayers to Kirb. Hopefully he can get through this."

Wilson is a 50-year-old assistant with a gregarious personality. He's one of the more popular coaches on the staff and coach Mike Tomlin broke the news of the fire to the players at the morning meeting. They walked to practice in stunned silence, but seemed to percolate by the time they had finished. Redman then assumed a leadership role as a mob of reporters descended upon his locker.

"We're confident," Redman maintained. "Clay has worked very hard to put the confidence into the coaches and the rest of the team that when he gets in the game he's capable of performing well. No, I think we're going to be all right."

Redman already had enough on his plate as the only veteran back active for the game. Now he'll need to mentor the rookies when they provide him an occasional rest.

"Me and Mewelde are going to have to be player-coaches," Redman said. "Every day at practice we help coach the younger guys and Kirb kind of stands off to the side and lets us talk player to player. He does his coaching in the room and he lets us have a gametime-like mentality out there on our own and try to let us figure it out on our own.

"Coming into this game it's going to be tough on the sideline worrying about what I have to do and help the young guys out. But I'm ready for it. I'm ready for the challenge."


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