Cam Heyward Mentoring Najee Harris For Mike Tomlin’s 2022 Side Project

Mike Tomlin’s focus and job is to make the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers the best version of themselves they can be. But his side quest is to have Cam Heyward turn Najee Harris into, well, the next Cam Heyward. Tomlin discussed what he calls his “side project” of the season, having Heyward mentor Harris and turn him into a team leader. Tomlin explained why in a fantastic interview aired Tuesday by The Pivot Podcast, hosted by Fred Taylor, Channing Crowder, and Ryan Clark.

“I’m bridging a transitional leadership relationship between Cam Heyward and Najee,” Tomlin told the show. “Najee is a leader. He was a born leader. He’s got good football morals. He sees the game the way that we see the game. He wants to be a part of what’s right. So that needs to be cultivated. That needs to be trained. Really, going back into the last year, I’ve challenged Cam Heyward to help him grow in that way.”

In attitude and spirit, Harris and a young Heyward were similar people. Different personalities, Harris is a lot more extroverted and open, joking around and sometimes trolling the media, but grounded, humble, and knows there’s a lot to learn. Heyward had the benefit of having leaders in his positional group. Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, three perfect dudes to learn from, not to mention a legendary coach in John Mitchell.

After sitting on the bench for two years, the room became Heyward’s to own and he’s run with it, turning into an All-Pro player and All-Pro person. Especially now without Ben Roethlisberger, Heyward is a leader and face of the franchise. And will help Harris grow that side of himself to positively impact the offensive side of the football.

“We give of our time and our space to that young man,” Tomlin said of how the “program” will work. “We’re not gonna ask him to lead without teaching him how to do it. What it looks like, what it entails. And not only in our words, but in our actions.”

Heyward is the perfect man to follow in words and actions. Few take the game as seriously as he does. Few work as hard as he does. Few hustle to the ball the way he does. Harris has already shown those elements, showing up in great shape to camp last year, taking on the role of workhorse back, and doing the little things that are easy to overlook, like chasing down this interception last year.

With likely the youngest offense in football, Pittsburgh needs new leadership, and it’s a fool’s errand to try and turn someone into one. Harris has that natural trait and though he hasn’t had to be an on-field leader much before, will assume that role in Pittsburgh beginning this year.

Tomlin retold a story that became trendy last year with Heyward sending a Christmas tree to Harris’ house after the team found out Harris wasn’t basking in the Christmas spirit.

“We just want him to know that we need certain things from him in the football way and so we gonna help him with the other aspects of his life because I can’t run the ball and neither can Cam Heyward. You know what I mean? Yeah. So we’ve got that other stuff. We can help you with that other stuff.”

Pittsburgh will depend heavily on Najee Harris this season, something Tomlin admitted in the interview. The Steelers will need to run the ball better than they have the last three seasons. Harris is entering his second year and proven he can be a starting-caliber back. The offensive line has to show they’re a formidable front five. If those pieces can’t come into place, the offense will be in for a long year and Pittsburgh’s chances of making it into the postseason hover around zero. Quality time between Harris and Heyward is valuable but come mid-January, the Steelers hope to have their sights set on a Super Bowl.

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