Najee Harris made his anticipated debut last night as the new featured running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it was…unspectacular. But as head coach Mike Tomlin said for the game, he wasn’t looking for spectacular. He wanted to see the rookie do the routine stuff routinely, and on a first pass through the game, it seems he did that.
Overall, he finished the game with 22 rushing yards on seven carries, including a long run of six yards. He also caught one pass on one target for three yards, and fared reasonably well in protection. But he was not overly dynamic, and didn’t manage to break any tackles. That will all come in time.
“It’s more about getting more game reps, for me to even say exactly what it is”, Harris told Missi Matthews in the locker room after the game about what he feels he needs to work on. “In practice, of course, I still want to work on communication with the line and the blitz pickups and stuff like that. Learning the protections on certain shot plays. The best time to correct yourself is getting game reps, so the more games I play, the more stuff I can correct, and get a better feel for the game”.
The first-round pick did play a fair bit in the first half of the game before turning the ball over to Anthony McFarland, Kalen Ballage, Jaylen Samuels, and Trey Edmunds (Benny Snell was not available for the game due to injury).
He made it pretty clear, though, that he wanted to play and play a good amount, not just every week but in each of the preseason games. Head coach Mike Tomlin did say that he would play in each game, but I’m sure that his workload will be monitored, and he may not hit double-digit touches until the regular season begins.
One also has to factor in the offensive line and who is available there. Three projected starters sat out last night’s game due to injuries, including Zach Banner, who is still being held back by the team as he comes back from a torn ACL. Trai Turner also did not play.
Needless to say, you don’t want to pound your rookie first-round running back behind a backup offensive line over and over again in the preseason. You need to get him some work, and that’s what they are doing, but you also have to make sure you get him into the regular season in the first place.