PITTSBURGH — Sometimes, the second-year leap is just evident to the eye. Mike Tomlin always talks and harps on about the inevitable ‘second-year leap’ that he wants to see his players take. That is no different this year as the players who received only a microcosm of the offseason training in 2020 get their full exposure to it in 2021.
While Chase Claypool and Alex Highsmith both appear improved, no one has taken a bigger leap than Anthony McFarland. The second-year back has had an extremely productive and fruitful training camp. In fact, he has a newly defined role in the offense as it stands. Working out of two running back sets and taking the reins as the clear second running back on the depth chart, McFarland appears poised to make the most of his opportunities. Tomlin has seen that growth as well. He went out of his way to praise McFarland Friday on a question about James Pierre.
“Pierre, McFarland, and Highsmith have stuck out,” Tomlin said. “You are seeing a consistent elevation with those guys you mentioned, but we expect that. The second lap around the track, you’re supposed to display that awareness.”
After a huge week that saw McFarland break out a fifty-yard run on Friday for a near touchdown, he has to keep the expectations up. His best play from Friday may have been a play where he made a sharp cut to force a missed tackle, and then tight roped his way to the end zone for a touchdown.
On Saturday, McFarland caught a touchdown on a wheel route out of the backfield from Dwayne Haskins. The game seems to have slowed down for McFarland, who is playing fast. He is not expecting everything to be a big play, but instead, is showing patience and letting things come to him. That will be what allows McFarland to be a great compliment to Najee Harris as he tries to secure the backup running back role.