UNITY TWP., Pa. — With starting running back Najee Harris on the sideline this week at training camp with a foot injury, there has been a big opportunity for the Pittsburgh Steelers backup running backs to make a case to make the team.
That chance got even bigger when veteran backup Benny Snell Jr. went down with a knee injury late in practice on Wednesday. Snell did not return for Thursday, and Mateo Durant has been out for a few days after taking a blow to the head on Monday, so that left just three players competing for running back Carris on Thursday: Third-year all-purpose back Anthony McFarland Jr., undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren and recent signee Master Teague III.
McFarland got the starting nod and was impressive in passing drills, as one point hauling in a 30-yard wheel route. He also looked solid running the ball, even between the tackles, which is not his speciality.
Warren, though, is quickly becoming one of the breakout performers of training camp. He runs hard and physical, doesn’t shy away from contact, but has an incredible burst in the open field. He broke off several big runs on Thursday, most of them leaving defenders in his wake.
He didn’t get to showcase it on Thursday, but he has also impressed in pass blocking drills this camp, something that is frequently a trouble spot for young running back.
Teague performed well enough with the third squad in team drills, but he really shined during a 1 on 1 running backs vs linebackers sideline tackling drill. He ran over several competitors, and truck sticked rookie linebacker Mark Robinson to the ground at one point. Robinson asked for a rematch and got a win before an indecisive third rep, but Teague was clearly the winner of the drill from the offensive perspective.
It’s not an ideal situation to be without 50% of the team’s backs and both the incumbent starter and backup absent, but even before Thursday’s strong day of running, Mike Tomlin said he felt comfortable with the group.
”I like it,” he said. “I like what they’ve displayed out here. I’m really interested in watching them in stadium and obviously, ball security is a component of that position that is nonnegotiable. You get those guys in the stadium and you get the chance to see their second effort and the things that you do in game like circumstances, they need to do those things while safeguarding the football.”
Easy win for the offense, which could have scored on five straight to start the drill.
Mitch Trubisky threw to his left and found George Pickens, who went up and over Cam Sutton — with a slight push off — to grab a score. The Steelers’ offensive game plan quickly seems to be devolving to just throw it to wherever Pickens is, and that has been working.
Anthony McFarland Jr. took an option toss sweep to the left side and ran through Sutton and into the end zone. Myles Jack was in pursuit, but couldn’t close the gap before the pylon. Easy score.
Trubisky threw a now screen to Anthony Miller, who out-muscled Sutton to get over the goal line.
Trubisky threw to his right to Pickens on a fade over Ahkello Witherspoon. The ball touched the ground as he was completing the catch and Mike Tomlin ruled it incomplete. Reporter Jeff Hathhorn, who had an excellent vantage point, said it was a catch. Your mileage my vary.
Gunner Olszewski to a jet sweep to the left and scored, sneaking between Tre Norwood and Delontae Scott. Kenny Pickett was in at quarterback.
Pickett forced a throw to Cody White to the right into heavy traffic. It was tipped by James Pierre and probably should have been intercepted.
Mason Rudolph threw incomplete for White in the back of the end zone. Pierre was in coverage once again. White had a step, but the ball was thrown high.
More to come …