The Pittsburgh Steelers went out and got themselves an extra running back this offseason to complement Le’Veon Bell when they came to terms on a two-year contract with former Panthers first-round draft pick DeAngelo Williams, who was recently released prior to turning 32 years old.
Part of the impetus of signing such a veteran back as Williams was due to the fact that the Steelers already knew going into the offseason that they would be without Bell for some period of time to start the year, which later turned out to be three games, pending the decision of the third-year back’s appeal.
Last year, the Steelers only carried three running backs on the roster: LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer in addition to Bell. The fact that they carried six wide receivers and 11 defensive backs to start the season played a role in this, but the long and short of it is that they didn’t leave themselves much depth at the position, which later proved to be an issue after Blount was released.
Josh Harris was part of that issue, as he became the third running back after Blount, having been signed from the practice squad, but he was limited by his inexperience, and hardly saw much playing time at all until after Bell was injured.
But the Steelers liked him enough to carry him on the practice squad, and then the 53-man roster, and even gave him the majority of the rushing attempts in the team’s playoff loss that Bell missed.
Entering his second season, Harris is hoping to be a much bigger part of that equation, and the odds suggest that he will have a healthy opportunity to start the season to audition for a bigger role later in the year as he adds to his resume.
There is one line on that resume in particular that has stuck in the minds of many within the Steelers facility, according to Bob Labriola, who recently stated on a Steelers.com live segment that his 59-yard run that was called back due to a holding penalty has not been forgotten.
The play came during the regular season finale after Bell had been injured and Harris was forced into action. With 11 minutes to play and the Steelers taking over at the 26 nursing a three-point lead, the Steelers showed a run-heavy look with three tight ends to the right.
Following blocks by David DeCastro, Will Johnson, and Heath Miller, Harris raced to daylight just inside the numbers on the right side, turning it upfield and very nearly outrunning safety Reggie Nelson, despite being at a massive disadvantage in terms of field placement and angle. Otherwise it would have been a 74-yard run being called back, and six points off the board.
Unfortunately for Harris, he gained just seven yards on his five carries during the game that did count, and that has generally been the theme in his brief playing time last year. The Steelers see the potential in Harris, but it needs to translate on the field if he wants to keep his place on the 53-man roster when Bell comes back from his suspension.