PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) – In 2020, the Steelers were the worst rushing team in the NFL, by far. They averaged 3.6 yards a carry and lost their best running back in free agency.
It could be the final year of Ben Roethlisberger; they need to have a ground game to help him through the air. Team president Art Rooney spoke to it in the offseason as did everyone else in the organization. They addressed it with their first overall pick and worked every off-season practice to get Alabama All-American Najee Harris ready for a needed resurgence of the run game in Pittsburgh.
RUNNING BACKS (6) – Najee Harris, Kalen Ballage, Benny Snell, Jr., Jaylen Samuels, Anthony McFarland, Jr., Trey Edmunds
STARTER – They may not announce it, but no doubt Harris will be the starter. Ben Roethlisberger made sure to take reps with Harris at training camp. He’s not only their top pick, but their best option. Even as a rookie.
“He’s a really hard worker,” Roethlisberger said during voluntary workouts. “He’s in here extra-long. I think the other day the running back coach told him ‘hey, I have to go home now’.”
“It shows that he’s still in there watching film. He’s constantly asking questions. He doesn’t seem lost. It’s not too big for him. His head is not spinning. He’s asking questions which is good, but he’s out there playing fast.”
“I think the most exciting part about Najee, once he gets it and it clicks and he goes full speed. Man, it’s going to be something to see.”
“I’m very excited about his potential,” said Steelers running backs coach Eddie Faulkner. “You know he’s a talented guy. It’s just going to be the intricacies of the offense and running routes and things that we want him to do. Understanding that the different coverages they can play. How you run your route based on what they are giving you; those are things he has to learn.”
“Physically, whether it be the actual running of the route or catching the ball, he can do it. We are really excited. It will be how quickly we get him up to speed. He makes that part easy because he puts the work in.”
“’Tailwagers’ like a dog, waging their tail and ready to learn. That’s exactly what he is about. His ambition and drive to want to learn.”
BACK-UP—Here is a camp battle to watch. Snell had 794 yards in 2020, but never shown any explosiveness. Samuels is a three-year vet with a great game back in 2018 against the Patriots. Ballage is a free agent signing from the Chargers with 3.1 yards per carry in three years with three different teams. Edmunds is a try-hard guy who does have some burst.
The wild card here is McFarland. Watching what new offensive coordinator Matt Canada did at Pitt, you could see McFarland playing a role like Quadree Henderson. McFarland also had a near 300-yard game for Canada at Maryland. Plus, McFarland lost out on all off-season workouts last year, so he was learning the offense on the fly. There is the potential for a big growth in his game this year.
OUTLOOK- There is nowhere to go but up looking at last season. They’ve addressed it with a first round pick, a free agent and intriguing how McFarland will fit with his old college coach. How much they improve is the question.