UNITY TWP., Pa — The Steelers lost their two de facto offensive leaders after the 2021 season, but they are looking to fill that void with Najee Harris. As such, with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster leaving to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs. That left a vacuum for the Steelers to try and fill, and Harris has been the answer that Tomlin and company are looking towards.
Harris himself has a different view of his leadership style than maybe others will say. While there are plenty of leaders who lead by example and others who lead vocally, Harris has his way of doing things. In an offense that will look to his guidance, this is a key year for Harris’s leadership to show up.
“There’s all types of leaders,” Harris said. “There’s leaders who lead from the back. Then, there are others who lead from the front, the vocal ones like Cam. Of course, there are leaders who lead by example. I think I’m a leader who leads by example. I try to be that type of person. I’m going to try to lead by speaking, too. There’s all types of leaders, but it’s mostly about what the team feels comfortable with, and who can set the best example of what the standard is. For me, that’s just playing to the standard.”
Adhering to that standard is where Harris will derive his leadership from. While the Steelers’ standard is about hard-nosed football, Harris’ motivation is what he draws all his energy to work hard. It is focusing on that energy and his past experiences where Harris sees himself growing as a player and a leader.
“My standard is a little different, I’m more motivated in a way,” Harris said. “I want to achieve more every day. It’s more of a hunger and a drive for me. So, we have some things on the team that will resemble a lot of that.”
Mike Tomlin Has His Thoughts on Harris’ style
Even in his rookie season, Harris was identified as a potential leader based on some of the qualities he presented at a face value. Harris works tirelessly hard. Moreover, he is outgoing, social, and relatable. Those are some qualities that can allow Harris to command the room. It is his charisma coupled with the fact that Harris seemingly has an attitude where he refuses to stop working.
While Harris may view himself as a lead-by-example player, Mike Tomlin has different views on that. Harris is plenty vocal to an outside view of the media, but Tomlin largely believes that’s the same thing inside the locker room. In fact, Tomlin views Harris more as a vocal leader rather than a laid-back, lead-by-example type of leader.
“He’s vocal,” Tomlin said. “He’s just selectively vocal.”
There are certain qualities that all coaches, especially those like Tomlin, look for in their young players to identify potential leaders. Right when they started scouting him, Tomlin knew Harris could potentially be a future leader for the Steelers. Now, that burden will be placed upon him. Tomlin and Cam Heyward have helped foster Harris’s leadership skills, and that will continue to be an objective this season when he needs to be a leader.
“It’s just him. It’s in his personality,” Tomin said. “I imagine he’s been that on every team he’s ever been on in his lifetime. So it is a natural act for him. So it’s just something that you recognize and you cultivate. It’s not something that’s mandatory for all individuals, it’s a team. It’s appropriate that you have enough of them, but it’s not something that’s mandatory per individual.”
Cam Heyward Looking for Najee Harris to be a Leader
With all the work that Heyward has put into mentoring Harris as a leader, now that it is time for him to step up as a leader, Heyward will be watching closely. Heyward is the de facto unquestioned leader of the team as it stands. However, that does not mean that the team does not need leaders below him in plentiful numbers. With Joe Haden, Stephon Tuitt, Roethlisberger, and Smith-Schuster gone, plenty of young guys will need to step up.
For Heyward, Harris is at the top of that list. If the Steelers are going to be successful in 2022, filling the leadership void will be a huge reason why they are successful. That is why Harris’ involvement with the team is so key for the Steelers moving forward into the season.
“We’ll need leaders,” Heyward said. “The younger leaders, you look at a guy like Najee, who has been here. Then, there’s Chase, Diontae. But everybody whose a young player but a returning player has to be a big part of why win and lead the way.”
With all the turnover, the change in leadership will be felt. For Heyward, however, there is no better time than now to switch up how things go. If Harris is to be that guy, he will have to follow specific steps, but Heyward will be there to guide him and help him as he steps up as a leader.
“There was a lot of turnover,” Heyward said. “I think this is a perfect time to do it. You’ve got to bring them along. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get to know these guys. This will be fun. But guys will have to step up.”
As the Steelers head into their first camp practice on Wednesday, Harris’ demeanor and leadership style will be one of the key storylines to watch.