Whether or not it should come as a surprise, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin did drop a bit of an info nugget while discussing the running back room during his pre-game press conference yesterday. The frame of questioning for weeks now has been whether or not Jaylen Warren, the rookie college free agent, would get a bigger role, but what about Najee Harris?
A Pro Bowler as a rookie last season, Harris suffered a Lisfranc foot injury early in training camp, about which Tomlin has never felt the need to elaborate much. The injury occurred during a period of the year prior to which he is required to produce injury reports or really give much of any information at all.
The runner himself, not the coach, has in the past told us that his foot injury was a Lisfranc. He is the one who told us that he had been wearing a plate in his cleat for most of the season to provide support for the structure of his injured foot.
Yesterday, Tomlin was asked finally about whether or not the former first-round draft pick was still being affected by that injury. His response seemed to indicate that he is. “You know, to what degree, I don’t know”, he said via the team’s website. “He’s playing and so obviously he’s healthy enough to play. I’ll let him speak to that”.
To his credit, or perhaps to Tomlin’s chagrin, Harris has been ‘speaking to’ a lot of things this year, including about his injury, revealing to us details we likely otherwise wouldn’t have had. Tomlin, though, certainly has a pattern when it comes to injuries and detailing information about them.
Specifically, he doesn’t, when at all possible. When players are injured and not practicing, for example, he claims to have a virtual ignorance of their status, as though he doesn’t actually see them and speak to them. He pretends that it’s all in the hands of the trainers and medical staff and he just doesn’t know anything about it. We probably shouldn’t buy that nonsense. Of course he knows.
While Harris hasn’t leaned on his foot injury as an excuse for his performance this season, he did say when he removed the plate from his cleat that he felt an improvement in his maneuverability. There has, perhaps, been a minor uptick in his elusiveness in recent weeks.
Numerous other issues still cloud his game, however. He sits at just 361 yards through eight games on the strength of 108 attempts, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry and only one rushing touchdown. While work has been somewhat limited, he has averaged closer to four yards per carry in recent games.
It is notable that he has not hit 20 carries in any game this season. 18 is his high, and he has failed to hit over 15 in six of his first eight games. In contrast, he rushed more than 15 times in all but seven games last year including the playoffs, and he missed significant time in three of those games due to injury.