PITTSBURGH — Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren are embroiled in a ‘running back controversy’ after Warren’s big day against the Buffalo Bills. That 62-yard touchdown showed something that Warren can do and Harris does not have in his arsenal. But Matt Canada pulled no punches when asked about that discussion on Monday.
“Well, Najee is our 1,” Canada said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”
The Warren run did showcase his underrated burst. Going against safety, Warren cornered the bend and rocketed past the defender. That is something Harris will not bring to the table, but the Steelers did not draft Harris to do that. Canada praised Warren in his second year for his adaptability and high level of play so far, but it is not enough to push Harris off the podium for the top spot.
“We are fortunate,” Canada said. “We’re excited about Jaylen and Najee. He finishes a lot of runs in practice. But if you back that play up from the endzone, Diontae had a great block. That was big to see that. Jaylen is a guy who on third down and all of the things he did as a rookie, we’ll use him a lot.”
Harris and Warren combined to form one of the better duos the Steelers have boasted in their backfield in recent memory. Down the stretch, Harris and Warren split the snaps about 60 to 40 in Harris’ favor. Najee Harris came into training camp knowing that Mike Tomlin planned to limit his snaps. While he wants to play more, Harris recognizes that he needs to be healthy and fresh for the team in Week 1.
“We came in with a plan,” Harris said. “I talked to Coach T at the start of camp. I am following Coach T. Whatever he says, goes…of course, I want to play more. I want to get my feet wet too. But there’s always a plan, but also, these young guys we have got experience and these reps. Like, a guy like Ant, this is the best he’s looked since he’s been here for four years.”
As for where the level of confidence is for Canada in Harris, it could not be any higher. In other words, expect Harris to come into the season getting the bulk of the work. That does not mean that Warren will be blanked out, and far from it, but it does mean that Harris is still the team’s lead back.
“You look at what we asked Naj to do the last couple of years, you guys referenced how much he carried the ball his first year,” Canada said. “That’s a lot. We ran the ball a lot in the second half last year and Naj is a big part of that. Your body can only take so much. He’s done a lot. So, we’re gonna get him ready but not jump the shark.”
The running back controversy, in other words, is not a thing. Harris will start, but Warren will play. Warren won’t just play a little bit either, but a significant amount of snaps in his second year.