New Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive lineman Mason Cole knows just how special running back Najee Harris can be in his sophomore season.
Cole, a free agent who the Steelers signed to a three-year contract on March 17, will be at least partially responsible for unlocking more of Harris’s potential. In fact, Cole said he thinks Harris can far surpass the 1,200 yards rushing he posted in his rookie season. And he didn’t waste any time in regards to reaching out to his new teammate.
“That is why you play offensive line, to turn around and hand the ball to a guy like that,” said Cole when speaking to Steelers.com writer Teresa Varley on Wednesday. “I was texting him and said we have to get you to 2,000 yards in a season. That is the goal.”
While Harris’s rushing total is impressive as a stand-alone number, he mustered up just 3.9 yards per carry behind an offensive front that failed to get much push up front in the run game. His longest run last season was a 38-yard burst in Week 17 in the latter stages of a 26-14 win over the Cleveland Browns. But on the flip side, Harris tallied 381 touches without a fumble in the regular season, which was good for first in the NFL. One could only hope an improved offensive line with Cole on it can keep a streak like that alive.
The Steelers gave Cole $15.75 million over three years with a $4.565 million signing bonus with the hope that he can help bolster a rather weak interior offensive line. Pittsburgh finished 29th in total rushing in 2021, a very minor step in the right direction after finishing dead last in 2020.
Cole was drafted in the third round of the 2018 draft by the Arizona Cardinals. He played his first three seasons there and spent 2021 with the Minnesota Vikings. The Michigan product played in 14 games for Minnesota, but started in only seven. Of the projected starters along Pittsburgh’s offensive line, Cole would be the oldest after turning 26 years old on March 28. Knowing he could instantly become a leader in that room was a major factor as to why Cole chose Pittsburgh.
“There is an opportunity here to help this young offensive line get better,” Cole told Varley. “I think as you get up in years in the NFL, I am going into Year 5, there comes that point where you have to start being that guy in the room one way or another. If that is what the room needs, the team needs, that is what I am here for, to give that veteran presence. I have been that young guy in the room before. I had one of the veteran leaders mentor me and show me the way. If I can do that to any of these young guys on the team, I think it would be a great honor.”
While it’s still up in the air where Cole, who has played at center and guard, will slot into Steelers’ revamped offensive line, he left no doubt about his intentions to become a key cog in the wheel for a team looking to recapture that championship mentality.
“I am really excited about this organization and being a part of it, the history and culture of this organization, past, present and future. I want to be a part of bringing this city a Lombardi Trophy.”