Former Super Bowl-Winning Steelers Lineman Sounds Off on Najee Harris

Steelers RB Najee Harris

Nick Cammett/Getty Images Najee Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on prior to a game against the Cleveland Browns on September 22, 2022.

Last week former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Trai Essex came down hard on second-year Steelers running back Najee Harris, sending a tweet that illustrated Harris missing a hole on the first play of the game against the New England Patriots.

He went on to tweet a message saying that Harris could “really learn somethin(g)” from rookie undrafted free agent running back Jaylen Warren about “running down hill.”

During an appearance on The Fan Morning Show (93.7 FM Pittsburgh) on Sept. 26, Essex moderated his comments, at least to some degree.

“I know I was probably a little harsh on him last week ’cause I was just in my feelings — as offensive linemen are — when your running back doesn’t hit the hole,” he said, noting that he was trying to point out that it’s not always on the offensive line when a running play doesn’t succeed.

But he remained resolute about Harris not having the best vision.

“I think vision is one of those things that is kind of innate in a lot of running backs. Some running backs just have that elite vision, some don’t and they compensate with their other attributes and I think Najee is one of those guys,” he said. “Najee does have good vision but there are some moments in time — some lapses — where I think he predetermines where he wants to go at the line of scrimmage, for whatever reason.”

Trai Essex: Rookie UDFA RB Jaylen Warren ‘A Sight for Sore Eyes’

Meanwhile, Essex — who was a 3rd-round pick of the Steelers in the 2005 NFL Draft and won Super Bowls with the team in 2005 and 2008 — likes what he has seen from rookie running back Jaylen Warren.

“I like his one-cut style,” he told the Morning Show, calling him a “sight for sore eyes,” a reference to how the the Steelers needed to find a backup running back to reduce Harris’ workload after a rookie season in which he carried the ball 307 times and caught 74 passes, as per Pro Football Reference.

He went on to say he thinks that both Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren need more time with this offensive line before all parties reach their potential.

“It’s improving. It’s a work-in-progress. I think there is a hard ceiling on how (good) they can be,” he said, specifically referring to the team’s offensive line, which features two new starters in center Mason Cole and right guard James Daniels.

“They are moving in the right direction. Each week they have gotten better as you see the chemistry start to grow between all the new pieces that got incorporated in the offseason,” Essex said.

He also expects Harris to get better as the season goes along, having noted that Najee played in just one preseason game, in part because he needed time to work though a Lisfranc injury that kept him from practicing for most of the month of August.

“I think this last game (against the Browns) he did place emphasis on hitting the holes and showing trust in the offensive line. And I get it, last year we had a whole bunch of new guys and it took a while for them to start to jell and you didn’t see Najee hit his stride until the second half of last season. I’m thinking we’re seeing more of the same, because he got off to a late start — some cobwebs he has to knock off before he starts getting into his groove,” concluded Essex.

Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren Compared

Indeed Harris hasn’t been overly productive during the first three games of the regular season, with 40 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown (3.8 yards per carry), along with 10 receptions for 48 yards and another TD.

Meanwhile, Warren — who finished his college career at Oklahoma State and was a standout in training camp — has carried the ball 11 times for 52 yards (4.7 yards per carry), while adding two receptions for three yards.

All that said, Essex doesn’t give Harris credit for bringing a physical presence that Warren does not, one enabled by his “action figure” physique.

Consider how Harris sent a Browns defender head over heels while pass protecting for quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

And consider how he stiff-armed not one, but two defenders en route to the end zone at Cleveland.

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4 months ago

Oh dont worry Essex it wont take Warren long to get fed up with that Trash Tomlin. Wake up. Going from Saban to Tomlin? Thats like living in Heaven then burning in Hell. Talk about Perfect Coach to gutter trash Coach….geez…Najee and Minkah better run….they are ruining their spectacular top notch talent w that idiot coach.

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