Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris touched the ball on each of the team’s first three plays of Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, a pivotal, must-win game. He injured his arm on that third play, and would not return until deep into the third quarter as a result.
But he was back out there, even though he had to carry the football with his opposite hand, and he made a couple of critical plays on the final drive that allowed the Steelers to get into field goal range in overtime and secure the much-needed victory.
Now that they got it, along with the help that they needed from other teams in order to secure a spot in the playoffs, the question is, will Harris be available to them after all the swelling and everything else has run its course, and how much can they ask of him? And how do they protect him from himself?
“That’s a joy, to be quite honest with you”, head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters on Tuesday about managing a player with such a work ethic and drive. “I’d rather say ‘whoa’ than ‘sic ‘em’. It’s a good issue and problem to have when you have a guy that’s wired the way that he’s wired”.
Harris is not an easy player to get off the field. Several weeks ago, I believe in the game against the Los Angeles Chargers, when he took a hit to the head and struggled to get back up, he wasn’t entirely cooperative with the process that involved taking him out of the game—at one point, he even appeared to lightly shove one of the medical officials. He did return to the game, by the way.
But the point is, of course, that he has already established himself as the sort of person who is going to do whatever is within his power to make himself available to his teammates. That’s a good starting point, Tomlin knowns that, and he knows it’s his job to manage return and recovery.
That’s a task he’ll gladly take on knowing that it gives him the best odds of having one of his most important players on the field. Still, that doesn’t tell us what exactly he’ll look like when he is actually on the field.
Yet it’s hard to imagine the Steelers having much of a chance on Sunday, let alone throughout the postseason, without him being out there and being the player he has been. His legs aren’t injured, of course; it’s just a matter of how well he can use his right arm. As long as he doesn’t fumble, which he hasn’t all year, I really don’t care if he holds the ball in his butt cheeks.