Harris, a first-round pick from Alabama, is expected to be the Steelers’ starting running back this season. That is great news for Bettis, who made it clear how excited he is to watch Harris in the Black and Yellow.
Jerome Bettis is excited to see Steelers rookie Najee Harris in action
The Steelers haven’t had a legitimate game-changing running back since Le’Veon Bell shredded defenses in his prime. Harris, the 24th overall selection earlier this year, hopes to break that drought.
Consider Bettis, who entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015, among those who want to see Harris thrive. During a recent appearance on Peacock’s Brother From Another, Bettis made it clear he has high expectations for Harris in the Steelers’ offense.
“He’s super athletic. He can jump over you, he can go around you, and he can do it all. But he still has that [230-pound] physical pounding attitude coming from Alabama. They like to pound the football, so he’s not afraid of 25 [touches] a game. And I think that’s what we needed, and now it gives us the potential to be an even more dangerous football team because now we can be multidimensional.”Jerome Bettis
The Steelers clearly want Harris to become an all-purpose offensive star. Pittsburgh hadn’t used a first-round selection on a running back since taking Illinois standout Rashard Mendenhall at 23rd overall in 2008.
Bettis also criticized the Steelers for abandoning the run game last year
Although Bettis hasn’t played for the Steelers since February 2006, he still spends plenty of Sundays per year cheering on his former team.
One could understand how frustrated Bettis felt watching the Steelers’ rushing game last season. Despite starting the season with 11 straight victories, the Steelers lost in the AFC Wild-Card Round and finished 32nd overall in rushing.
The Steelers rushed for 1,351 yards as a team in 2020. For comparison, Bettis topped that total twice with the Steelers and had 1,341 rushing yards in 2000. When he appeared on Brother From Another, Bettis said he realized fairly early last season that the Steelers wouldn’t win a seventh Super Bowl title.
“I was just getting madder and madder because I saw the writing on the wall. You cannot be one-dimensional going into the playoffs. You just can’t do it because the better teams will be able to stop you [from doing’ one thing. That’s why you have to be multidimensional, and you’ve got to then be able to adjust, and we just couldn’t do that.”Jerome Bettis
Bettis proved correct in the end. The Steelers ran for 52 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries in their 48-37 Wild-Card Round loss to Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns.
Harris is certainly a rookie to watch in 2021
Bettis clearly wants to see what Harris can do, and the Steelers are in the same boat.
Pittsburgh didn’t re-sign James Conner, the hometown favorite and former Pro Bowler, after last season ended. Barring an injury, the Steelers’ rushing game belongs to Harris in what is a pivotal year for the franchise.
This could be the final year that Ben Roethlisberger is under center for the Steelers. Despite earning throwing for 33 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, his 6.3 yards per attempt marked his lowest in a full season. The two-time Super Bowl champion turned 39 in March and has a litany of injuries under his belt.
Roethlisberger stands to benefit tremendously if Harris is everything the Steelers expect him to be. The Steelers can have a far more balanced offense that would allow their veteran quarterback to continue using shorter throws, especially with Harris involved as a slashing weapon, to his advantage. In a division with Mayfield and Lamar Jackson at quarterback, it should go without saying that the Steelers need to score as many points as possible.
Bettis is there to support whatever the Steelers do in 2021 and beyond. But for his sake, he should hope Harris pans out and becomes the team’s next great running back.