If there is one thing that you’re not going to get Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris to cooperate with very easily—other than casually dropping profanity during interviews—it is getting him to come off the field. The second-year Pro Bowler wants to touch the ball as much as possible, even in practice, or so it seems.
One of the dialogues we’ve had about the running back position this year has been around the question of workload. The coaching staff has talked often about their desire to get Harris more time off, but Harris has been inconsistently compliant with that idea in his public comments on the matter. Certainly, he’s not doing it voluntarily.
He talked about how his own workload ambitions are often—or at least often enough—at odds with what his coaches want him to do, and how that sometimes leads to friction with running backs coach Eddie Faulkner and head coach Mike Tomlin, albeit well-intentioned.
“Well, it was a good thing, I guess you could say, because me and the coaches, as in me and my position coach, and every now and then me and Mike T, we get into arguments because I want to get some reps in, live reps, too”, he said when he was asked if the foot injury he dealt with during training camp that took his getting reps off the question was in a way a good thing, via the team’s website.
Now, surely none of you are going to overdramatize Harris using the word ‘argument’ here, right? Nobody is going to misinterpret this as suggesting that there is some turmoil between the star running back and the coaching staff and that Tomlin has once again lost the locker room. That’s not going to happen, right? Okay, good. Moving on.
“But they keep saying it’s not the best thing to do. I mean, you could say that, but I don’t want to get hurt. I mean, it comes with the sport, so you’ve just got to take it and just find a way to get better”.
Nevertheless, Tomlin has a long history of claiming an intention to do one thing before a season starts and then doing another when the actual games are being played. How often has he spoken about finding more time on the sidelines for his featured backs, only to regularly see them lead the league in snap percentage when they are healthy?
Harris played 940 snaps in the regular season last year, 84 percent of the team’s total offensive snaps, far and away the highest mark in the league at the running back position. He played 100 percent of the snaps in the first game of his career. The only times he dipped much below 80 percent were when he was dealing with injuries or cramping.
We are talking about the NFL’s leader in total touches as a rookie last season with 381. Can they really expect him to replicate that as an encore? Harris insists that his body is built for virtually any workload you can throw at it, but that very well may be youth talking.
The Steelers do have a new number two running back this season in the form of rookie college free agent Jaylen Warren, who impressed the coaching staff during training camp. Between him and Benny Snell Jr., how much burden can they take off of Harris’ shoulders?