It was a moment in time that no Pittsburgh Steelers fan wanted to see: star second-year running back Najee Harris writhing in pain on the turf late in the fourth quarter inside Paycor Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals in the season opener.
After getting rolled up on by a host of Bengals on a fourth quarter carry, Harris limped off to the Steelers’ sideline sending the fan base into a bit of a panic. For the men on the field though, there was confidence in backup running back Jaylen Warren, who earned his way onto the 53-man roster as an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State.
In an elevated role as the backup running back, Warren showed flashes of strong play against the Bengals, handing his role well in pass protection with some impressive blocks, giving the Steelers some solid reps in the thrilling overtime win.
Speaking with reporters from inside the locker room Monday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side Monday ahead of practice, Warren stated that the week of preparation leading up to the Bengals’ game had him prepared to handle anything thrown his way, including an elevated role due to injury.
“I was where I needed to be. I wasn’t trying to do too much, staying on my keys, and I feel like I did a good job,” Warren said to reporters, according to video via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Chris Adamski. “…The week of preparation, they prepared me to be in that situation. Anything can happen in a football game. They put me as RB2 and expected me to step up.
“When that happened [Harris’ injury], I already knew what the plan was, so I just had to go in and execute.”
Warren did a nice job of executing not only throughout the game on 23 offensive snaps, but late in the game and in overtime after Harris’ injury. That’s a tough situation for an undrafted rookie making his regular season debut to step into, but the moment wasn’t too big for Warren.
He knew what the game plan was, understood his role and responsibilities within the scheme, and executed those responsibilities rather well.
That’s promising moving forward for the black and gold, especially with Harris likely limited for a few weeks with the foot injury he suffered Sunday. Hopefully more preparation, playing time and confidence in his role will help Warren pick up some of the slack left behind with Harris’ injury.