The Steelers may have found a diamond in the rough with undrafted rookie running back Jaylen Warren.
Warren, in three games, has averaged 4.7 yards per carry while backing up starter Najee Harris.
But he’s far from letting the early success go to his head.
“We’re pretty good with complimenting each other,” Warren said of he and Harris Thursday. “But I don't think I’ve establish anything for myself. It's still, like, the beginning of the season. So I may be on my way, but as far as right now, I don’t think I’ve earned anything.”
Warren ran for a career-high 30 yards and caught his first pass in the NFL last Thursday in the Steelers’ 29-17 loss in Cleveland. He also ripped off a long gain on a shovel pass that was negated due to a questionable illegal man down field penalty.
“I wasn't devastated or anything,” Warren said of the play. “It just sucked that we ended that drive without a score.”
Warren’s approach has looked noticeably different than Harris’. And that’s not a bad thing, necessarily. He has proven to be a more decisive, shiftier back than Harris, who is the more patient, powerful runner of the tandem.
"Jaylen is a really good changeup from Najee,” Center Mason Cole said. “He's smaller, twitchier. A really good 1-2 punch."
Steelers coaches seem to be noticing what the rookie is bringing to the table, as well. In fact, one is almost raving about him.
“When you look at what he’s done, how he’s come in, he’s done a great job at protection,” offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. “He can run it. He can catch it and his protection has been really, really good. Really happy with him and excited with his growth and continued growth.
“He’s produced when we’ve put him in there. We’ve sat out here and talked about overuse of Najee and too many plays. That’s not why we are doing it. We are understanding the wear and tear on Najee over X amount of games in a season and X amount of games in a career.
“To have somebody go in there and basically do it all, which is what he’s done... He’s not just a short-yardage runner. He’s not just pass-protector. Jaylen’s come in and fit that role really well.”
Warren has been able to form a relationship with Harris, as well. He goes to him for advice on how to maintain his body, and picks the Steelers' second-year back’s brain on conditioning. Sometimes, however, processing what he hears from Harris isn’t the easiest.
“He was saying words, I don't even know what those are,” Warren said, with a laugh. “But they're like scalpel, scolding, grid. I don't know. Just random words. I'm like, ‘okay, sounds good.’ I was just, like, taking that in.”
In time, Warren will probably gain a better understanding of those things. But, for right now, he’s just smiling, looking up to Harris, and trying to soak in all he's told.
“He's been very helpful,” Warren said. “I feel like everybody brings something to the (running back) room… I learned something from each and every one of them and Najee is definitely one of them that took me on his arm and kind of like shows me around and stuff.”
That budding camaraderie — as well as the improving offensive line — is something that the Steelers hope will springboard the run game into another level. It’s not there yet, but Warren is certainly optimistic.
“Knowing that our team is solidified right now as far as this season goes, I think it helps a lot practicing every day with each other and getting used to each other's game,” he said.
“I feel it gets closer like every day. We're all getting that chemistry with each other, so I think as time goes on it's going to hit soon.”