Najee Harris builds his profile throughout his first style of NFL life on the Steelers Rookie Minicamp
The black shorts and white uniform should be the giveaway for Najee Harris that he is no longer in college.
Harris spent the last two days at the rookie minicamp with his new employer’s training threads, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a sharp departure from the purples and whites he wore in Alabama.
Even so, the 23-year-old who ran back couldn’t help but morph into some old habits of his Saturday college days.
Little did he know, for example, that the assembled group of men and women standing on a balcony overlooking the practice fields of the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex were reporters and media workers.
“Man, I thought you guys were all boosters,” Harris said in a video interview on Saturday after a morning workout. “That’s crazy.”
The exchange took place when Harris was asked about his ability to catch the football. During an exercise, he reached over his head and reached for a pass from former Slippery Rock quarterback Roland Rivers III with one hand. Harris was surprised that this catch was considered topical and asked the reporter if he always covered the Steelers, apparently wondering if the questioner had seen his college highlights before.
“I always do that,” Harris said in disbelief. “Not to brag or anything. It wasn’t luck, I can tell you. Since you’ve all watched, I can do it again. I’m not working on that. I’ve been doing this since middle school.
“I have big hands, man.”
Although his naivete encountered Zoom, Harris was much more polished on the practice field. The Steelers got their first taste of the running and catching skills that made Harris a first-round draft pick, and coach Mike Tomlin was impressed with the player who will be a key to the team’s overhauled running game.
“I think he’s as conditioned as anyone else out there, and that’s a great place to start,” said Tomlin. “I think he has a solid foundation from that perspective. He’s a hot guy. He’s a soccer player. You can tell that he has a passion for football. He’s very good at articulating the game, so it’s very exciting. “
In Alabama, Harris set school records with a total of 57 touchdowns, 46 rushing scores and 3,843 rushing yards. Its 4,624 all-purpose courtyards take second place in school history. He sees similarities between what the Crimson Tide did and what Matt Canada tried to install in his first year as offensive coordinator.
“We studied a lot at ‘Bama,” said Harris. “Here the amount of time I’ve spent learning the pieces has taken another level. I’m used everywhere, so I have to learn several positions. It’s a lot more film work than college. I don’t have a school anymore, so I’m happy about it. I have no problem spending that much time in the movie room because it’s something I like.
“I am ready for the challenge. That’s what they chose me for. I’ll be happy to block for Ben, learn these new formations and try to help the team as much as possible. “
Tomlin spent a few minutes on the morning run talking to Harris, who also had some good one-on-one conversations with positional trainer Eddie Faulkner. Harris was the only one to run back on the 34-player rookie roster and was used in a variety of ways during team practice.
“That gives him ample opportunity to verbalize his knowledge and things like that,” said Tomlin. “I think you teach a little differently when you don’t have the numbers. They speak in opposition to trying to preserve something. He had many opportunities to show what I sketched. “
Work for Harris and the rest of the rookie class continues on Monday. It will kick off May 24th, when the Steelers can have 10 organized team activities followed by a mandatory mini camp within three weeks.
It remains to be seen how many of Harris’ new teammates will be available. The NFLPA wants its members to do all work virtually, as it did in 2020 at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The Steelers are one of many teams who have chosen through the union to boycott field work at OTAs. However, NFL teams run their business as usual.
It is likely that drafted rookies and un drafted freelance agents – the Steelers had 29 total available this weekend – will be at the South Side facility to improve their NFL inventory.
“For me, I always tell myself to start with step 1,” said Harris. “It starts again with the basics, trying to learn new things and try to be more explosive, do footwork, have better eyesight, catch the ball better and be a more explosive player. The level of competition and the difference between college and the NFL are two different places. “
A difference that was made worse for Harris on Saturday.
Joe Rutter is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Joe by email at email@example.com or on Twitter.