The Pittsburgh Steelers have a clear starting quarterback in Kenny Pickett this season. But not everyone in the media is convinced the team has a clear-cut starting running back.
But Jaylen Warren looked impressive late in 2022 and has continued to play well during training camp. That’s led to rumblings about a running back competition in Pittsburgh.
However, Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada was having none of that. When he spoke to the media on August 21, he tried to put to rest any idea of a position battle in the team’s backfield.
“I think that Najee’s [Harris] our one. There’s no doubt about that,” Canada told the media, according to CBS Sports’ Bryan DeArdo. “And I mean, I think we’re protecting him to get him to that point.
“I’m never going to lock ourselves into any kind of what it’s going to be or how it’s going to go. I don’t think that’s fair to anybody. But that’s certainly, we’re planning on Najee being Najee, you know, when we start the regular season.”
RB Competition Looming for the Pittsburgh Steelers?
Canada’s response to the team’s running back situation came a few days after the Steelers played the Buffalo Bills in Week 2 of the preseason. Harris had 2 carries for 6 yards in the matchup while Warren popped his lone run for a 62-yard touchdown.
Even before playing the Bills, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell proposed the question on his podcast, “How long until Warren replaces Harris?”
SI.com’s AllSteelers’ Noah Strackbein tried the answer Wexell’s question.
“Warren has been far and beyond the best running back on the Steelers training camp roster,” Strackbein wrote. “He looks stronger, faster and more well-rounded than the former first-round pick, Harris.
“Maybe that’s by design. The Steelers have limited Harris’s reps during camp, keeping him to bare minimum work throughout the summer. Why? We don’t know, but it’s cause for concern as they approach the season.”
Harris has played 9 snaps in the first two preseason games. He has recorded 3 touches for 5 yards.
Warren has lined up for 8 offensive snaps this preseason. He has rushed for 75 yards on 4 carries with zero receptions.
Steelers’ Najee Harris Explains His Lack of Preseason Repetitions
Strackbein isn’t the only one a bit baffled by Harris’ lack of playing time this preseason. In fact, Harris, himself, doesn’t seem to particularly like that he has played so little this month.
But Harris stressed to the media that he is following the direction of head coach Mike Tomlin.
“We came in with a plan,” Harris said, via The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly. “I talked to Coach T at the start of camp. I am following Coach T.
“Whatever he says, goes.”
Canada reiterated that idea, adding that the team is “protecting” Harris.
Assuming Harris isn’t dealing with an injury, which would be an obvious reason to limit Harris’ repetitions during the preseason, Steelers fans should probably take Canada at his word. Harris is going to be Pittsburgh’s lead back in 2023.
But that doesn’t mean Warren won’t be significantly involved. On August 21, CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin projected the Steelers to have a 70-30 split between their top two running backs.
“Najee Harris has the build and draft pedigree to draw a ‘workhorse’ label, and while his rugged style remains a fit for Pittsburgh’s old-school approach, No. 2 Warren has been too dynamic not to steal additional snaps in 2023,” wrote Benjamin.