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Steelers RB Najee Harris Scoffs at Weight Narrative, Ready to Play, Lead

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Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris works drills at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex -- ED THOMPSON

PITTSBURGH — Najee Harris isn’t just serious about staying in great shape. He’s also serious about anyone who might suggest otherwise. He spoke to Pittsburgh media Tuesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex before the team’s first minicamp practice of the year, and took time to address his playing weight.

“Do ya’ll know how much I weighed last year?” Najee Harris asked in response to a question about his playing weight. “I was listed that, but I haven’t weighed 232 (pounds) since I played Notre Dame (Jan. 2021). I was 242 last year and now I’m at 244.”

“But if you guys know, you’re heavier (in minicamp) then you are in the season,” Harris continued. “I wasn’t that big. I know some people were saying I’m ‘bigger than Jerome Bettis,’ no I’m not. And Jerome’s the homie, but ya’ll just making it seem I’m fat as hell. Ya’ll get under my skin, but that’s why I like ya’ll.”

When Mark Kaboly brought up that Bettis’ playing weight was closer to 290 pounds, Harris exclaimed, “exactly,” to further his point.

The line of questioning stemmed from comments that originated last week during Steelers OTAs. Harris came over to Wes Uhler and Arthur Moats as they hosted a show for Steelers Nation Radio just off the practice field on May 31. In a joking manner, Harris asked Uhler and Moats to guess his weight until he revealed his current weight was 244 pounds.

I spoke with Uhler on the Locked on Steelers podcast about that incident for last Friday’s episode:

But from there, the public commentary on Harris’ weight spun out of control. Kaboly tweeted out Harris’ statement that he weighed 244 pounds and it got picked up by national writers. That led to comparisons to Harris’ listed playing weight on the Steelers’ website for the 2021 season at 232 pounds, and speculation he put on a lot of weight in just a few months.

And then came the comparisons to Bettis:

And from there, speculation as to Harris’ effectiveness in 2022 spun off into a negative narrative:

Harris didn’t appreciate the direction the discourse went, and made it public last week about where he stood:

But Harris does seem to appreciate when his head coach, Mike Tomlin, pokes fun at him about his weight.

“Mike T messes with me a lot,” Harris said about Tomlin. “He says I weigh more than him. But he always messes around with me saying, ‘aha! I bet I weigh more than you today, Najee.’ He jokes around like that, but he doesn’t care. As long as I can move with it, it’s good. If it becomes an issue it’s when I can’t move with it and I look sluggish, but I feel good out there and that’s all that matters.”

That’s the bottom line; if Harris is still a quick, explosive running back, he doesn’t need to worry about a playing weight of 244 or 242 pounds. Tomlin is known for having strong relationships with his players, and that includes joking with them in day-to-day operations.

If there was any real concern about Harris’ playing weight, Tomlin would make it known. He did back in 2012 when he made an example of Jonathan Dwyer, who Tomlin let know he needed to lose weight.

But Dwyer wasn’t anything like Harris, who only looks, quicker, sharper, and bigger, than his rookie season when he set an all-time Steelers record for rookie rushing yards at 1,200. Here’s Harris’ work on some drills during OTAs leading into minicamp:

Doesn’t look like his weight slows him down, does it?

Harris was a player who came into the NFL with high expectations as the first running back selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.

“Last year, no other offensive rookie was put in the position I was put in,” Harris said about his first year. “What I mean by that is no other offensive player had to come in and be the head honcho or the focal point of the team. That’s a lot leaned on one person. I took that in, and they told me that.”

Harris might not have won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award over Ja’Marr Chase, but he led all NFL players with 381 touches and all rookies with 1,667 yards from scrimmage. That was also the fourth-most among all NFL players. That’s a lot for a rookie, but also the expectations Harris knew came with the Steelers’ picking him.

“I knew it would be a long season with Ben finishing up his career,” Harris continued. “A lot leaned on my shoulders. But anytime they give me the crown in any kind of way, I’m going to take that and run with it. I did learn as the season wore on, people don’t want to tackle later in the season. That worked out to my advantage.”

Harris gained over 100 scrimmage yards in five of the Steelers’ 2021 wins, as well as the team’s tie against the Lions. In all but one of those wins, the Steelers only won by a single possession. He played a huge role in the Steelers’ campaign that rose from a 1-3 start to a 9-7-1 finish to make the playoffs.

All of those individual feats haven’t taken Harris’ focus away from getting better.

“When you watch the film last year, you put all the good runs, bad runs, good protections and bad protections together,” Harris said about studying himself last season. “You want to see what you want to work on. There’s a lot of things I want to work on. I’m not trying to get into all of it, but I’ve looked at the film, focused on the bad stuff and tried to improve on it.”

Harris has been serious about his workouts and efforts to be in the best shape for years. That was on full display with his workout regimen leading up to the NFL Draft. Now in the NFL, Harris keeps up his training, but made an exception to meet and train with Mitch Trubisky.

“Right when we (signed) Mitch, I actually flew out here to meet him the next day,” Harris said of Trubisky. “Then I flew back to Texas to train. But I just wanted to meet him in person to see what kind of a guy he is. I was actually with him in Florida to see how he was training. He has a good regiment on how to take care of his body and knows how he goes about his business.”

When asked about an increased leadership role, Harris talked more about his work ethic playing into his standing with the team.

“Me, I always lead by example,” Harris said on leadership. “That’s the best thing I could do. I do need to talk more, but I’ve always liked to lead by example. That means going out there playing and getting everybody in the mood to play.”

Harris also acknowledged that the Steelers have talked to him about decreasing his frequency of touches to preserve him throughout the season. It’s an adjustment he accepts, but not one he says that changes his outlook.

“I will be on the field a lot, but certain downs I’m not going to be on the field,” Harris said. “That’s just to take off shots and extra hits. I do want to play a lot. But at the same time it’s also about being smart, so I understand.”

Even when Harris’ position coach, Eddie Faulkner, talks about his work, there’s no question about how prepared the second-year running back has been.

“When he leaves here, you’re not worried about the work he needs,” Faulkner said of Harris. “I was a little bit concerned about his sophomore campaign that he’d get distracted or do more than he did in the past or if he’d keep up his workout regimen. But he’s been on top of it.”

Faulkner and Harris bonded last season. Now the player and coach have a mutual respect for how Harris shows up to work and how Faulkner diversifies his drills and workouts.

“It’s always fun to see coach Faulk(ner) switch it up and do all types of stuff,” Harris said of Faulkner. “He works his arsenal to relate game stuff to the drills. Coach Faulk is always thinking of new ideas. Shoutout to coach Faulk. He’s mad at me because I had this speech at these awards and he got mad at me because I didn’t shout him out.

“Shoutout to coach Faulk,” Harris continued. “Hopefully he can be a head coach some day. Shoutout to any coaches looking for him. Eddie Faulkner, he’s short, so it might be hard to see him. But if he stands on some stools, you might see him.”

Any limitations on Harris in 2022 won’t come from any perceived added weight or lack of explosiveness. His athleticism might even be the biggest factor of consistency that boosts a Steelers’ offense that looks for new faces and help at quarterback, offensive line and wide receiver.

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