It is virtually impossible for there not to be a leadership void, at least initially, following the retirement of a team’s franchise quarterback. And the Pittsburgh Steelers have lost a lot more than just Ben Roethlisberger over the past couple of seasons, most notably offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey and Ramon Foster.
So many of the faces on both sides of the ball that formerly were associated with the leadership of this roster are now gone, and they are looking toward the younger generation to step up. Second-year running back Najee Harris intends to be that guy—but also sees an opportunity to build a new leadership structure in the team.
“Obviously, I’m trying to be that leader, too, but in a team, I feel like everybody needs to be a leader at their position”, he told Missi Matthews for the team’s website. “For a running back, I want to hold the running backs to a certain type of standard of what we need to do when we get in the game”.
Harris is actually the ‘youngest’ running back in the room in terms of accrued seasons, outside of the two undrafted rookies, but is already the most experienced, as last year’s first-round pick, and a Pro Bowler. He is ready to take charge of his own room, but also hopes to fill the leadership void for the team as a whole.
“I want to be the leader for the team, but we also need leaders for every position room, and that’s why we need to come together, that’s why we’re here laying this foundation, who are the guys in the room”, he said. “That’s what we’re doing right now”.
He also named some other players he envisioned as leaders, or possible leaders in their own rooms, such as Mitch Trubisky for the quarterbacks, draft classmate Pat Freiermuth for the tight ends, and wide receivers Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. “I want it to be everybody. Derek [Watt], too. Everybody needs to play a part so we all can achieve the same goal”.
And that is his focus this year. When he was asked about whether or not he was setting any goals for himself this year, he repeatedly placed team goals over the personal. Win more games, he said, win a championship. Personal goals are only in service to the same collective goal.
Harris has come in this year looking even better than he did in 2021, though he didn’t need any kind of learning curve to figure out how to take care of his body like a professional. He did at least learn some lessons about what it takes to get through a 17-game season, and he has implemented that knowledge into his offseason regimen, so that he can best make himself available for his teammates throughout the season, on and off the field.