It may be true that a great running back won’t reach his full potential behind a poor offensive line. But former Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive tackle Max Starks says a talented back can bring out the best in an offensive line and give them confidence that’ll allow them to improve.
Starks joined 93.7 The Fan with Andrew Fillipponi and Chris Mueller to discuss the kind of impact Harris, the 24th pick of this year’s draft, can have on the Steelers’ offense and a run game searching for answers.
“I watched the Alabama line over the last couple of years and just the gel that they had, the chemistry that they had,” Starks told the show. “And it elevated them to know that they had a guy like that in the backfield. I think that’s also something that’s going to help this line out, knowing you have a battering ram in the backfield.”
There’s no question Harris ran behind one of college football’s best offensive lines, but Starks’ argument is he made his line better, too. Harris was able to create on his own too, not solely taking advantage of giant lanes provided by the big boys up front.
Starks went on to explain how an lineman’s mentality can shift when he has a stud runner in the backfield.
“I can go hit a little bit harder. I can lean a little bit more into that double team and maybe I don’t get all the way up to seal off the second level backer, but I know that I have a battering ram there that if I get a piece, he’s going to blow through that guy. And so all of that helps create confidence, especially in a young offensive line.”
Essentially, Starks is saying the line doesn’t have to play perfect because Harris can smooth out the edges. If a linebacker slightly works off the combo block of the guard, Harris has the size and power to run through him. Still, this Steelers’ offensive line needs to do a much better job this year than they have the past two seasons. Free-running linebackers have been a habitual issue that have plagued the Steelers’ rushing attack.
To Starks, he’s more concerned about the O-line coming together and playing as a confident unit.
“Chemistry really makes a difference. When you have those positive kind of affirmations outside of, ‘I don’t have to be perfect. I just need to do my job’ that makes life so much easier.”
It’s one reason why new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm has been so focused on instilling a “dog” mentality along the line. An aggressive line is often a confident one, and they’ll feed off that energy and tenacity.
All the changes along the Steelers’ offensive line has created question marks across the board. The only spot that felt stable up until last week was RG with David DeCastro. That was before his release and replacement by veteran Trai Turner. How those guys play as a starting five, not just individually, will be part of their test and biggest question/answer heading into the season.