Mike Tomlin Discusses What He’s Looking For From Backup Running Backs

In his press conference a after practice today, via, Mike Tomlin talked about what he’s looking for from the team’s backup running backs in their final preseason game on Sunday.

“Production, ball security, playing without the ball. Their contributions and production in the teams game is a component of that. That’s something we highlighted this morning in the team setting, not only them but for all the guys that are trying to add value to their causes, special teams is a legitimate component of the game and those that have skills in that area, that helps them and it helps us, Tomlin said.

Benny Snell Jr.’s special teams ability is certainly a strength for him, while if Jaylen Warren can show he can hold onto the football, his ability in the receiving game and to create yards for himself should likely be enough to make the 53-man roster. While Anthony McFarland Jr. has had a good camp, he doesn’t provide a ton of special teams value. The team tried to give him a shot at gunner against the Seahawks, but as Alex Kozora broke down here, it didn’t go too well. If the team thinks Warren is the better running back (and for what it’s worth, I think he’s shown that he is), that could spell trouble for McFarland’s future on the roster.

The situation behind Najee Harris this year is going to be interesting. Pittsburgh wants to reduce Harris’ touches and the wear and tear on his body, but for that to happen and for them to compete, someone has to step up. Snell has had his moments where he’s looked like a viable NFL running back, probably more than he gets credit for. He ran for 113 yards in the season opener against the Giants in 2020 after James Conner left with an injury, and in 2019 he ran for 98 yards in a division win against the Bengals and had 18 carries for 91 yards against the Ravens later that year.

Last year though, Snell couldn’t manage 100 yards for the season, although he only got 36 carries. At this point, I’m not sure Pittsburgh has enough faith in Snell to make him a reliable contributor in the backfield. Still, he’s worth a roster spot for his ability on special teams. It’s only the preseason, but Warren has looked liked a guy who could take a few carries a game from Harris with minimal drop off. He also can contribute on passing downs, an area where Snell is limited.

Harris is one of the best running backs in the NFL, but he had a lot of tread on his tires during his rookie year. Pittsburgh would like him to be their running back for the rest of his career, and if that’s going to be the case, he can’t take as many hits as he did his rookie year. Someone is going to have to step up out of the backfield to keep Harris fresh, and I’m interested to see who it could be.

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