OC Matt Canada was made available to the media Tuesday afternoon after the team’s first mandatory minicamp practice, and spoke on a variety of topics concerning the offensive side of the football. When asked about having one of the other running backs on the roster step up and alleviate some of his workload, Canada pointed to training camp and the preseason as a potential opportunity for that role to be seized by the others backs in the room.
“But obviously a chance to play in the preseason, we had Najee figuring it out,” said Canada about getting Najee Harris exposure to the NFL game last season. “I think we’re going to have a great opportunity this year with the three games that’s referenced to get those guys in there and see who elevates to that spot. I think it’s important.”
Pittsburgh had no qualms getting Harris exposure in their four preseason games, giving him a heavy workload in his NFL debut which carried over to the regular season to the tune of Harris playing 980 offense snaps (84%) where he got 307 carries for 1,200 rushing yards (3.9 YPC) and seven TDs to go along with 74 receptions for 467 yards and three scores in 17 games. All-in-all, Harris finished fourth in the league in rushing yards and second in carries only to Colts RB Jonathan Taylor.
Being able to lighten the load has been a topic actively discussed by media members and Steelers fans alike after the physical toll Harris took on in his rookie season, and those conversations appear to be occurring inside the walls of the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex as well. On Tuesday, Harris mentioned that he and the coaching staff have talked about lightening his workload heading into his second season according to audio via 93.7 The Fan.
Harris is by far the Steelers’ most accomplished running back, so having him on the field most of the time would be ideal. Still, to avoid the risk of injury and running their first-round pick from a year ago into the ground, it would be beneficial to have Pittsburgh explore options of getting other RBs onto the field, should they prove to be effective like Canada mentions during preseason action.
When asked about Najee’s physical size and stature as well as his growth in maturity going into his second season, Canada didn’t hold back his praise of his workhorse back.
“Najee’s still one of my favorite guys,” Canada answers the question regarding what he is seeing from Harris in OTAs and minicamp. “He loves football. He loves to compete. He knows what to expect. He was already vocal; he’s just more comfortable.”
Nothing out of the ordinary from Canada regarding Harris who has been dubbed a football junkie from the second he stepped foot in Pittsburgh. Heck, RB Coach Eddie Faulkner heaped his praises on at the beginning OTAs, commending him on his rookie season and his willingness to learn and dedicate time to walking tape, so much so that Faulkner feels the need to tell Harris to “go home” and have hobbies outside of football due to how hard the guy works.
The coaches, including RB coach Eddie Faulkner, have also given up on telling Najee Harris to go home when he stays at the facility super late.
“He pretty much just says f— it. That’s where we’re at.” pic.twitter.com/T4Y36g1csH
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) November 6, 2021
Faulkner also talked about Najee’s size and weight coming into OTAs when it was reported that he now weighed 244 lbs., saying that it should be much of a concern. Canada reiterated those sentiments, having very little concern about Harris and any potential “weight issue”.
“Physically, you can see he puts you into work, but that’s never been a question. You guys were all here last year. And he has worked so hard on his body and everything he does,” Canada started in response to Najee reportedly looking bigger this offseason. “I’m not surprised though; the fact that he’s in shape and ready to go. I’m not at all. That’s who he is. And that’s why we’re all big fans of him.”
I’ve now seen Najee Harris’ quads with my own eyes.
And yes, they’re as impressive as Twitter made them out to be last week. pic.twitter.com/hAq4jntr8p
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) May 31, 2022
Harris has made it known this offseason that he wants to take on a bigger leadership role now that Ben Roethlisberger is no longer with the team, deciding to retire after the 2021 season. His actions thus far show that he is doing everything in his power to be ready for that role. He has physically built up his body for handling another heavy workload ahead of the 2022 but has the selflessness to surrender work to other backs to preserve his health and long-term availability for the team. He also constantly is studying film, and texting and calling coaches about things he’s seeing to ask questions and gain a better understanding of how he can improve.
He also has shown the willingness to bond more with his teammates this offseason, reportedly flying out to Texas to meet up with QB Mitch Trubisky the day after he signed in free agency and attending a team throwing session at Trubisky’s Florida home. From a work ethic and character standpoint, the Pittsburgh Steelers hit a home run with Najee Harris, and OC Matt Canada is the latest name to praise the young man’s efforts to become the best player as well as the best teammate he can be.