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J.C. Hassenauer Praises Najee Harris’ Ability To Read Blocks And Adjust As A Runner

While the Pittsburgh Steelers lost a key matchup to the Cincinnati Bengals last night, the team is continuing to see improvements on the field, especially in the running game. After running as a team for 217 yards against the Saints last week, the Steelers rushed for 102 yards on 24 carries with Najee Harris putting together another strong performance to the tune of 20 carries for 90 yards and two rushing TDs.

LG Kevin Dotson gave his thoughts about the improvement of the running game on Monday morning in the locker room, stating that the team has come a long way from the start of the season, but still has plenty of room for improvement.

Backup C J.C. Hassenauer was also asked about the running game and more specifically about RB Najee Harris and how it appears like he is hitting his stride as a runner in recent weeks, Hassenauer responded that Najee has done a really good job not only executing based on what has been blocked for him, but also adjusting when he has had to improvise.

“Yeah, I think it’s just like I was mentioning with the offensive line gelling and how we played together, it’s also the same with the running back,” Hassenauer said to the media in the locker room Monday on video from Steelers.com. “When someone else comes in, he has to feel the blocks. He has to read the guys. The running back position is really hard cause you have to not only run your read, but you also have to feel the blocks and feel where there might be a potential missed block or a guy coming off the edge. So, for him to be able to feel all that and feel that we gel together, it’s just as important for him.”

Through the first eight games of the season, Harris ran for 361 yards, averaging just 45 YPG. However, Harris has rushed for 189 yards in the last two contests, averaging 4.7 YPC and 94.5 YPG on the ground. He has looked more decisive getting downhill rather than attempting to shake defenders in open space and has also shown more burst than at the beginning of the season when he was dealing with a linger Lisfranc injury.

Hassenauer made a good point above stating that Harris not only must be able to read the blocks as they are drawn up, but also adjust when he sees an open hole to exploit. Harris did just that on his season-long 36-yard run last week against the Saints, taking the handoff and instead of going up the middle and following his blocks, he bounced to the outside as #32 Tyrann Mathieu overran the play, setting Harris up for an explosive run.

Harris will still have his physical limitations as a runner in terms of elusiveness and top-end speed, but he finally is beginning to look like the runner we saw last season. Part of that can be attributed to getting healthier, but also Harris gelling more with the OL as the individual linemen gel more with each other to form a more cohesive unit. Hopefully Harris as the rest of the OL can sustain this improvement as the team looks to finish the 2022 season on a high note and string together a few more wins by season’s end.

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