2nd-year running back Najee Harris adds leadership role in Steelers offense

For a player who as a rookie led the NFL in touches, played nearly 1,000 offensive snaps, and was the designated ball carrier or target for nearly 40% of his team’s plays, it may seem hard for the Pittsburgh Steelers to ask much more of Najee. Harris in 2nd grade.

That doesn’t mean the head coach and team captain haven’t done it though.

“(Mike Tomlin) and Cam (Heyward), they brought me in and talked about playing a leadership role,” Harris said during his training camp report in Saint Vincent last week.

“They said to me, ‘You have to be that guy.'”

So Harris, the sophomore running back who was a first-round pick after helping Alabama win another national title, adds a big task to the heavy workload he’s already been asked to carry. wear for the Steelers at just 24 years old.

A leadership voice for a young Steelers offense.

“I don’t ask people to be something they’re not,” Tomlin said. “It is naturally in its wheelhouse. It’s something that just oozes out of him. It’s just about him and us cultivating that and using it for our collective good.

The only running back caught in the first round last year, Harris then led the NFL in rookie running backs (307), rushing yards (1,200), scrimmage yards (1,667), touchdowns rushing (seven) and total touchdowns (10). He was second all-league in touches (381), led all league running backs in strikes (74) and targets (94, tied), and finished third among all running backs for receiving yards (467).

Never hesitating to take on that massive workload, Harris also insists he’s ready to take on more of the intangible that comes with being a budding league star.

“I accept it,” he said of being a team leader.

But by what methods? Harris is somewhat of a dichotomy in that he is far from shy but at the same time can be reluctant to be the center of attention. He is an outgoing and quick-witted prankster while hesitant to speak on behalf of the team.

“There are all types of leaders – there are leaders leading from the back and there are leaders leading up front,” Harris explained. “Obviously the vocals love Cam, and there are leaders who lead by example. I feel like the kind of guy who leads by example. I try to be that kind of person But I also try to be the one who leads when talking.

“There are all kinds of leaders. It’s really who the team is most comfortable with, who can set the best example of what the norm is. For me, it’s just playing by the norm.

The standard.

Harris spent four years immersed in what is the gold standard of college programs at Alabama, and like anyone who has been in the Steelers stadium locker room, he quickly became familiar with Tomlin’s credo, “The standard is standard.” It is embossed in chrome in what is now called Acrisure Stadium.

So, for Harris, what is “The Standard?”

“The Steelers standard, obviously, is tough football,” he said as he stood outside the Rooney Hall dormitory he’ll call home for more than three weeks in Unity Township. “It’s gritty, like those damn dorm rooms, stuff like that, just traditional Steelers style.

“Mine goes that way too. But I’m motivated in a way, I want to do more. Mine is more of a hunger and motivation for me.

A curious guy eager to read and learn about a new topic that interests him, Harris seems genuinely intrigued by learning leadership methods. Much like perhaps when, say, coaches at Alabama asked him to work on his receiving game or as a rookie, the Steelers coaching staff implored Harris to hone his skills in pass protection, now that Harris has been tasked with providing the leadership he expects. to attack it with the same enthusiasm.

“Naj is a good football player, and he’s going to get better,” retired Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said in a recent interview with WDVE. “He will probably carry the load this year and he is capable of doing it. I think he has the ability to be a great leader for this offense.

The truth is, according to some of his veteran teammates, Harris had already achieved leadership stature by the end of his rookie season. Forced to be calmer in his first round of pros at the end of 2021, Harris’ work ethic and production had earned the respect of his teammates.

“You could see it was a natural progression last year,” Heyward said. “Najee was asking for more, eager to lead and be heard. Najee is a guy who leads by example and is always active and knows how to be in the weight room trying to improve. Guys should follow his example.

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Chris Adamski is an editor at Tribune-Review. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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