Pittsburgh Steelers HC Mike Tomlin spoke Monday morning during the media breakfast at the NFL Owners Meetings in Phoenix, Arizona. During his media availability, Tomlin was asked about various topics, including OLB Alex Highsmith’s breakout season and the fact that Pittsburgh currently has one of the smallest coaching staffs in the National Football League.
Tomlin was also asked about RB Najee Harris and his maturation process in becoming one of the team’s leaders on the offensive side of the football. Tomlin responded that Harris did a great job taking on a more vocal role last season, following the retirement of QB Ben Roethlisberger, and looks forward to seeing how his leadership role expands.
“Najee has identified Najee as a leader and I agree with him,” Tomlin said to the media on video that aired live on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football. “You got to have shoulders for that. You gotta have an appetite for that, and he does. He’s a team guy. Winning is the utmost priority to him, and it’s displayed in everything that he does and how he conducts himself and how he communicates and so, that’s easy to support.”
Harris put it on himself to become a more vocal leader on the team prior to the start of last season, and the team recognized him for his efforts by naming him a team captain. After losing Roethlisberger to retirement, the offense lacked that leader both by word and by example. That made a player of Harris’ caliber and personality the perfect fit to step into that role and to carry the torch after Ben called it a career.
While the Steelers drafted Kenny Pickett as their succession plan to Roethlisberger as the team’s franchise QB, Tomlin did mention yesterday that they weren’t bashful in their intentions to build a strong running game to complement Pickett. While we should expect Pickett to take a step forward in his second season, Pittsburgh’s offseason moves suggest that this team’s identity will be to pound the rock much like it did to end the 2022 season. This team will look to Harris to be its leader on the offense once again.
This doesn’t mean that Pickett can’t take a step to become a leader on the offense as well. But much like the Steelers’ teams when Jerome Bettis was carrying the rock, Harris can continue as the offense’s leader both with his play on the field and how he commands the locker room with his commitment to excellence and winning.