Pittsburgh Steelers defensive leader Cameron Heyward said earlier in the week that second-year running back Najee Harris was “destined to be a captain”. Indeed, it seemed from the moment he was drafted that the team always envisioned him becoming a leader, and being voted into that leadership role of captain in just his second year is no coincidence.
Harris acknowledged to reporters on Friday that becoming captain was almost a goal for him this year, something that he wanted to do, and he was ready to step up to that challenge, trying to show more assertiveness here and there in small increments, setting an example for others. So what did head coach Mike Tomlin tell him when the back came to him for advice about how to proceed?
“He said just be yourself. That’s what he said”, the running back told reporters, via the team’s website. “He said, ‘Man, be yourself, because right now being yourself is good enough’. And then along the way all the other stuff will come with it. But as of now, he said just be yourself, and that’s what I am doing”.
The young runner does seem to show some innate leadership qualities, aspects of his personality that naturally lead to others gravitating toward him in some form or fashion, even if it is by emulating the example he sets, intentionally or otherwise.
It’s not often that young, 24-year-old running backs in their second season are put in the sort of position Harris finds himself. But he has talked previously about how he has felt the weight being put on his shoulders since he got here, speaking to the fact that he was asked to do so much as a rookie compared to others of his class—not as a complaint, but simply as an acknowledgment of what his role has been from the beginning.
It is easier when more than one player is voted as a captain for one side of the ball, and Harris does share the offensive honors with quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who at least for the time being will be their starter, perhaps all season, if they play well enough.
It will be up to those two more than any others to carry this offense, particularly as they wade through the growing pains of an offensive line that has many pessimistic about just how much better they’re actually going to get with the same personnel.
One thing I’m certain we can guarantee is that we’re going to see a lot of Najee Harris in the Steelers’ season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, the hope being that he manages to pick up where he left off before injuring his arm late in his rookie season. And his workload in and of itself is a means by which he leads, through example.