The Pittsburgh Steelers began grooming running back Najee Harris to be a leader of the team since before they even drafted him last year. it was clear even in the pre-draft process that they envisioned him as someone who could embody what it is to be a Pittsburgh Steelers and to serve in that captaincy chair.
Well, he earned the captain title as early as year two, but the team is also in the midst of what may well prove to be their worst season since he was cognizant of what football is. And he’s finding, unsurprisingly, that serving as that leader in times of stress is a more trying proposition—but it also shows you who the true leaders are.
“It’s easier to be a captain when you’re winning. It’s easy to be a leader when it’s winning, but I think you shouldn’t be judged when you’re winning”, he told reporters yesterday via the team’s website. “I think you should be judged when you’re at a position [like] right now. Going out there to practice every day and not pointing the finger is a starting point. putting your head down and keep grinding and keep chopping wood”.
Harris has always preached a method of leading by example first and foremost, and that is what he has been doing since he got here. He knows that it becomes only more important, however, the more prominent he becomes as a member of the locker room and the more trying the team’s circumstances.
Still, he hasn’t been leading purely by example. He has also been the most outspoken player in the locker room, particularly when it concerns communicating unity and avoiding distractions. He has taken the media to task a couple of times since the season began for the role they played, in his eyes, in introducing potential sources of friction between teammates.
It’s also an issue that he raised in his media session yesterday, noting that he’s finding too often that players are communicating through the media—whether intentioned or otherwise—rather than face to face, and he did say that that is something he feels needs to be addressed.
Unfortunately, one element that really helps to establish leadership credentials is excellence in your task and production, and he doesn’t have that this year. While he does have three touchdowns on the season, he has only produced 415 yards from scrimmage, with 329 rushing yards on 100 carries and 86 receiving yards on 18 receptions.
The expectation was that he would be able to become as more efficient runner in his second season, but we haven’t seen that for various reasons. The Lisfranc foot injury that he suffered early in training camp did not help him. He only recently removed a plate that rested inside of his cleat to keep his foot stable, so there is reason to anticipate an improvement in play in the second half of the season—one can hope.