On Tuesday, HC Mike Tomlin spoke to the media in his weekly press conference where he talked about the state of the team at the halfway mark of the 2022 season coming off the bye and previewed the team’s upcoming Week 10 matchup on at home Sunday against the New Orleans Saints who are coming off a home loss to the hands of the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football.
When Tomlin was asked about the running back room and if starting RB Najee Harris is still being affected by his Lisfranc injury he suffered back in training camp as UDFA rookie RB Jaylen Warren has looked more spry and explosive to start the season, Tomlin was noncommittal on the issue, but commends Warren’s work up to this point.
“You know, to what degree, I don’t know,” Tomlin said on Najee’s previous injury to the media Tuesday on video from the team’s YouTube channel. “He’s playing and so obviously he’s healthy enough to play. I’ll let him speak to that, but both guys have been available to us. We’ve gotten some awesome contributions from Jaylen [Warren] and it’s reasonable to expect that to continue. I know like I mentioned when we were talking about a division of labor and who’s done what and who’s done what well, I know that was a topic of discussion and very evident in our tape review.”
In all honesty, Warren has looked better than Harris through the team’s first eight games of the season from the eye test. He has run with burst and power, playing with non-nonsense as he hits the hole hard and fast to get north/south and pick up positive yardage. Najee, on the other hand, has been tentative at times when carrying the football, trying to be elusive in open space and shake opposing defenders rather than using his 6’2, 240lb+ frame to pick up the yardage he can as he tries to create on his own.
When looking at the stats and usage, Warren has steadily been earning more opportunity in the backfield as well over the last several weeks. Warren has effectively become Pittsburgh’s third down back thanks to his competence as a pass catcher as well as his stellar pass blocking ability. While counting stats need context, Harris has amassed a mere 361 rushing yards on 108 carries (3.3 YPC) and one rushing TD along with 24 receptions for 112 yards and two scores. Warren in comparison has carried the ball 29 times for 153 yards (5.3 YPC) and has caught 12 passes for 88 yards as the backup behind Harris, playing 165 offensive snaps to Harris’ 367.
So, the stats and the eyeball test favor Warren over Harris, albeit in a limited sample size, thus far this season. While the coaching staff has stood beside Harris as their workhorse back up to this point, when asked if Warren could potentially become the feature back over Harris as a means to make personnel changes after the team’s 2-6 start, Tomlin surprisingly kept the door open to the possibility instead of shutting the idea down like he has in the past for the former first-round pick and team captain. Whether this means that Pittsburgh will give Warren a chance to usurp the starting job from Najee remains unlikely, but Tomlin has acknowledged that he has earned his opportunities and will continue to get more.
“You know, he’s a quality back that’s made some plays,” Tomlin said about Warren. “We’ll keep giving him an opportunity to do so and maybe he’ll write that script.”