Will Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris make his NFL debut Thursday night against the Dallas Cowboys in the annual Hall of Fame Game at Canton, OH? To hear Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talk on Tuesday, it certainly sounds like Harris, the team’s first round draft pick this year, will see at least a little bit of playing time Thursday night against the Cowboys. Ahead of that preseason game happening, however, Tomlin was asked to give his up-to-date thoughts on Harris during an interview he had with Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller on SiriusXM NFL Radio.
“Man, I tell you what, man, in a very short period of time, he’s made us comfortable,” Tomlin said of Harris. “Not with his talents, we kind of understood his talents and his pedigree. I mean, there’s a tape a mile long from Tuscaloosa of him doing those things, but his competitive spirit. His willingness to step up and accept challenges and wanting the tough reps. And the way he battles the defense on a consistent basis, day in and day out.
“And that’s one of the reasons why we tackle because, man, what other way are you going to see that? You know, this guy’s had some spectacular five-yard runs where he got hit in the backfield out here and he’s earning the respect of his peers and he’s gaining the confidence that he needs to be what we need him to be this year.”
Tomlin wasn’t the only high-ranking member of the Steelers singing Harris’s praises on Tuesday as general manager Kevin Colbert did as well during his interview with Kirwan and Miller.
“When Naj came out of Alabama, again, he’s coming from a pro-style offense where he was a three down player and, you know, obviously he was a runner,” Colbert said of Harris. “He certainly was effective in their passing game, and he grew as a blocker, especially his senior year. And, you know, Naj is just a 230, 235-pound guy that’s really put together well. And he’s got really good functional strength, but he has exceptional balance.
“And what we’re seeing and learning is it’s hard to get them off his feet, either as a runner, receiver or when he’s blocking. He can stay in front of people. A couple of days ago, he got tossed and you know, some other guys may go down on their face, and he actually caught himself, rebounded and got back in front of the guy. Whether or not he would have been successful in stopping the sack, I don’t know, but just the athleticism to be able to keep his feet in that situation was impressive.”
Harris has seemingly had a great rookie training camp to date, and now it will be interesting to see how his Thursday night NFL debut ultimately goes, assuming he is allowed to play some. The Steelers will be without several starting offensive linemen Thursday night as tackles Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner, along with guard Kevin Dotson, aren’t expected to play against the Cowboys. The Steelers might also decide to rest their other starting guard, Trai Turner, Thursday night as well, as he is a seasoned veteran.
“He’s a rookie,” Tomlin said of Harris on Tuesday. “He needs the process of game preparation and then, ultimately, play. We’ve got our opportunities for him to do that. We’re going to make sure that he participates in all four of those processes. We’ll determine how much he plays, but the preparation process, the process of readying yourself to play, is something that I believe all those young guys need, regardless of their potential roles for us once the regular season starts.
“I just want to get them to as many stadiums and watch them prepare and watch them establish routines that make them comfortable, that maximize their ability in a game-like setting. So, I’m excited about watching him do that for the first time. I think he’s going to learn and grow from it, aside from the actual playing the game, just the process leading up to play. And like I said, we’ll determine tonight or tomorrow potentially how much that is.”