It’s probably safe to assume that Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris has been a regular presence at the UPMC Rooney Sports complex this week as Phase Two of the offseason program opened up. While there were suggestions that many players would not show up, they had seemingly perfect attendance at rookie minicamp. Teams around the league have been reporting larger numbers than expected as we near OTAs.
I’m sure Harris is glad for any company among fellow running backs, though. He was the only one on the team’s rookie minicamp roster, much like second-round pick Pat Freiermuth was the only tight end who was permitted to participate, in part due to the heavy restrictions on tryout players this year.
That did give the first-rounder an opportunity to have all eyes on him, though, which they probably already would have been. But when you’re literally the only person for your position coach to work with, you obviously get a lot of attention, and any pattern is easy to note.
“Absolutely, it is more noticeable simply because there’s not a lot of people to work with”, head coach Mike Tomlin said last week about Harris’ grasp of the game at such an early stage of his career. “He’s getting an opportunity to work one on one with Coach [Eddie] Faulkner at the running back position that provides plenty of opportunity for him to verbalize his knowledge and things of that nature. I think you teach a little bit differently when you don’t have numbers. You talk as opposed to doing, an effort to preserve”.
As a reminder, only rookies and first-year players who do not have any credited seasons (equal to three games in a single season on a 53-man roster or equivalent, not including reserve lists) could participate. The Steelers did not draft any other running backs or sign any as college free agents. None of their tryout players were running backs. They had no other running backs who were first-year players. Kalen Ballage, a fourth-year player, was the only player they added to the roster this offseason prior to the draft.
So Harris was literally out there alone with Faulkner working on running back drills. As Tomlin suggested, when you’re just one player and one coach, you’re not going to do the same amount of reps as you would with a full repertoire of players. That translates into a lot more conversations.
It was certainly an interesting introduction both for and to Harris, the latter from the team’s perspective, his first taste of on-field NFL work involving a lot of discussion about football concepts. It surely won’t do him any harm, but now he’ll have company as the full squad returns (in theory).