Jaylen Warren has the makings of a real underdog story, the sort of diamond in the rough training camp aficionados are always on the lookout for. The rookie running back went undrafted out of Oklahoma State, but he’s making a legitimate push for the 53-man roster.
The only trouble thus far is ball security, and to that end, after putting the ball on the ground inside of a stadium on Saturday night, he was seen this week carrying one around with him at Latrobe everywhere he goes, apparently with the words ‘Jaylen’s baby’ written on it.
Though it’s been a frequent topic of conversation and noted in recent days in Alex Kozora’s training camp diaries, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about the practice for the rookie back with fumbling problems, and he was quick to downplay it.
“Every back on our group does that”, he said of being asked to carry a football around to practice his ball security, when he was asked if it was his suggestion for Warren to do so. “We pass that ball around, that is nothing new there. That is part of our culture”.
I’m not sure to what extent I buy that, but whether by coincidence or not, it’s serendipitous timing for Warren to be assigned a baby just at the end of training camp, and after having just fumbled in a game during which he otherwise performed quite well.
After fumbling on Saturday night, the Steelers quickly pulled him from the game, and he got a quick talking to from running backs coach Eddie Faulkner. He was immediately put back in after sitting out one play, and it appeared he was going to get the ball right back, but the Steelers ultimately called a timeout and then ran a pass play.
Of course, he still played plenty after that, working into the third quarter and catching the first career touchdown pass from Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett. In all, he led all Steelers with 64 yards from scrimmage during the game, 34 rushing on six carries and 30 receiving on four receptions, including a three-yard score.
Assuming the Steelers keep only three halfbacks, which feels like a safe conclusion, Warren’s primary competition is Benny Snell Jr. and Anthony McFarland Jr., fourth- and third-year veterans, respectively. Snell is just getting back from injury, but McFarland showed well during last week’s preseason outing, as well.
Easy to root for, he has Steelers fans now rooting for him to make the team at Snell’s expense, with the hope that McFarland’s 2022 preseason debut is a sign that he has turned the corner and is ready to bring his speed and quickness to bear for an offense that has lacked such qualities in the backfield by any significant measure since—well, it’s been a while.