If the Pittsburgh Steelers are to meaningfully improve their running game this year, then it is going to have to fall upon the shoulders of Najee Harris to deliver them across the finish line to reach that goal. The rookie first-round running back is the only premium ingredient they have in their rushing recipe going into the 2021 season, and will be charged with making it palatable, which it was anything but in 2020
The good news is that Harris knows this and embraces this. The one thing he’s not focused on is who is making their blocks and who is not. The only thing that he is asking the guys up front is to play to the whistle, and trust that he’s going to make the first guy miss. And his teammates already know this, because it’s on his tape.
“The thing I loved about Najee, even in college, he was able to fight for extra yards, even though his offensive line missed a block or two”, defensive captain Cameron Heyward told reporters on Saturday, following a practice during which Harris shook out of his tackle attempt. “He made me miss, and got five yards. I hate it now, but I’ll like it during the season”.
Heyward is not a player who misses many tackles at all. In that regard, he is undoubtedly one of the most reliable defensive linemen in the NFL, though that can also be said of how he goes about his business in virtually any aspect.
So if a guy like Harris is going to start making him miss on the regular, that’s probably something to be excited about. I’m sure Le’Veon Bell got the better of him a time or two outside at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, and that worked out pretty well for the running game.
The reason that everybody is focused on the rookie’s ability to create his own offense, of course, is plain and simply because people expect that he will have to. With a new first-time offensive coordinator, new first-time offensive line coach, and a completely reworked offensive line, they have nothing they can count upon before they step foot inside of a stadium.
They have options. They’ve put a plan together that they think they can manage, and into which they will grow over time. Young guys like Kevin Dotson and Kendrick Green they expect to be good, hopefully sooner rather than later. But there will be growing pains. And Harris is going to have hands at his feet in the backfield. That’s when his pedigree has to make the difference.