PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Najee Harris ran down the field on Saturday afternoon, reached out and grabbed a high pass with a gentle one-handed grip.
It was an impressive catch for the few spectators at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on day two of the Steelers’ rookie minicamp, which got even more attention with Harris surrounded by young draft picks and NFL hopefuls.
But something like that has been doing the 6-foot-2, 230-pound first-round selection for years.
Harris was an NFL player for less than a month and treated the question of his one-handed catch like a pro, confident and confident in his abilities, not just as a running back but also as a reception weapon.
“I always caught the ball, man,” he said with a sly laugh. “I always do that, always do that. Not to brag or nothing. What the hell. It wasn’t luck, I’m telling you. I’ll do it for you again. I’m not working on that. I’ve been doing it since middle school. I have big hands, man. “
Harris made his final point, holding both hands in front of the camera to ensure that everyone on the Zoom call had a good view of his 10-inch gloves after the workout.
Harris was one of the top running backs in college football during his four seasons in Alabama. And the 2020 Doak Walker winner – and his hands – are used in a variety of roles on the offensive by coordinator Matt Canada as the Steelers attempt to overtake the league’s worst rushing unit a season ago.
This is nothing new to Harris, who after a short while found similarities in his college program and Canada’s plans for the playbook.
“There are a lot of things that are similar – it’s just different terminology,” Harris said. “But at the end of the day it’s the same meaning. … A lot of things that are similar are how they set me up and things like I did in college. Just take advantage of running back in passing game far out – far out in the X position. “
Of Harris ’76 receptions in his last three seasons in Alabama, he made eight in a row. He averaged 8.6 meters per catch as an X-receiver and scored a touchdown when he lined up far to the right.
Harris was most productive as a receiver when he started in the backfield, recording 66 receptions for 666 yards and 10 touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Info research.
A running back’s versatility is valued in Canada’s offense, and Harris said he believed that with a little film work, he’ll be more than able to balance the program’s many responsibilities.
“I’m going to be used everywhere, so they want me to know more than one position,” said Harris. “It’s a lot more film work than college. But I’m out of school and I’m glad I’m getting off it. I have no problem learning how to spend so much time in the film room because it’s something I like. I am ready for the challenge.
“It’s something they chose me to do and I’m glad to be in my position and have the opportunity to block for Ben [Roethlisberger]to get new information and to help as much as possible. “
Harris’s football understanding and the quick absorption of the material stood out from coach Mike Tomlin even after a few days.
“He’s a hot guy,” said Tomlin. “He’s a footballer. You can tell that he has a passion for football. He’s very good at articulating the game, so it’s very exciting.
“It stands out because there aren’t many people to work with. He has the opportunity to work one-on-one with Coach [Eddie] Faulkner in the running back position, which gives him ample opportunity to verbalize his knowledge and things like that. “
Harris’ fellow rookies were also impressed.
“He’s a damn good response,” said Pat Freiermuth. “When he walks around today, he makes very good cuts and is very smart at football.”
Harris impressed Tomlin and his teammates, but he knows there is still a lot to do to get used to the NFL.
“I have to start with step one to get all the basics,” said Harris. “I have to learn new – more explosive footwork, better eyes, better catching the ball. Just try to be a more explosive player because the difference between college and the NFL at the competitive level is two different places.
“Every time you reach a new high in life or a new step for me, I want to start with step one and make my way up. I’ll be playing against a lot of top players, lots of franchise players, all-pros and HOF. It’s about being a sponge and starting with step one. “