LATROBE, Pa. — Star Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris suffered a left foot injury midway through practice here Monday during training camp. He hopped off on one foot following an 11-on-11 snap and did not return. And when Harris left the practice area, he limped off without a shoe.
Once he reached the golf cart, Harris kept his bare left foot elevated as team staffers drove him away from the thousands of fans and curious members of media who turned out for practice at St. Vincent College.
“Somebody stepped on his foot,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said afterwards. “But it shouldn’t be a major deal.”
The Steelers better hope so. Their playoff hopes in an absolutely loaded AFC North are fragile enough as it is.
With Ben Roethlisberger retired, the Steelers’ best (only?) chance to return to the playoffs involves Najee Harris channeling Franco Harris. Harris carried the ball 307 times for an even 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns in 2021, and also caught 74 balls for 467 yards and three more scores. That was expected to be the floor for Harris’ production in Year 2.
The Steelers’ three-headed quarterback battle is a fun training camp subplot, but based on how they looked in a power-running padded session Monday, neither Mitchell Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, nor Mason Rudolph looked the part of a franchise QB.
Steelers’ quarterback competition
Trubisky — the former Bears’ top-five pick — has taken all of Pittsburgh’s first-team snaps this training camp, and he was fine Monday.
He didn’t make any egregious mistakes, but he also didn’t take any real risks. That should sound familiar to Steelers fans with Matt Canada calling plays. Only Jared Goff (6.4) had a lower intended air-yard average than Roethlisberger (6.7) in 2021.
That was justifiable considering how shot Big Ben’s armed looked late in his career. But Trubisky, Pickett, and Rudolph are all under 30 with NFL-caliber arms. And yet, the Steelers’ passing game has up until now been a check-down fest.
Of course, there are explanations for this that go simply beyond organizational faith in their quarterbacks.
Wide receivers Chase Claypool (shoulder) and Diontae Johnson (hold-in over contract dispute) and tight end Pat Freiermuth (hamstring) all missed team drills Monday. But it’s not like the Steelers had no weapons. Rookie George Pickens has been the toast of training camp, and if he can take a maturity leap, should be one of the most impactful players of his draft class.
“Just showing like all the coaches [that] I’m really a nice route runner,” said Pickens, the Georgia wide receiver selected 52nd overall back in April. “Cause everybody knows [me as] big, fast. That was my, you know, just deep [route] type of guy. That’s what you, that’s what Randy Moss was. And that’s kind of what I wanted to display.”
If the season began today, Pickens would have Trubisky throwing to him in games. The QB competition isn’t particularly close. In fact, the bigger question at this point seems to be whether Rudolph even makes the team.
The Steelers presumably would prefer not carrying two veteran quarterbacks on the roster, and Pickett is of course guaranteed a spot as a first-round pick. But he’s been pretty unimpressive through four days (although Monday was better than the first three). He has to improve enough during the preseason that the Steelers would be comfortable with him playing should something happen to Trubisky.
Brian Flores thriving in Western Pa.
Prior to practice, PFN got a chance to say hello to former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, who is now the Steelers’ linebackers coach after a pretty tumultuous offseason. Flores was fired by Miami despite going 10-6 in 2020 and 9-8 in 2021 — a decision that set in motion one of the biggest NFL scandals of the year.
Weeks after his termination, Flores filed a federal racial discrimination lawsuit against the Dolphins, the league, and several other NFL teams. In the complaint, he accused Dolphins owner Stephen Ross of offering him $100,000 per loss during the team’s 2019 tanking season. The allegation triggered an NFL investigation that remains active.
Flores has landed on his feet with Mike Tomlin as the Steelers’ linebackers coach — and on Monday seemed downright happy in his new role.
“He’s been great so far, just being able to learn from him,” said Steelers linebacker Alex Highsmith. “He’s got so much knowledge about the game of football. You can see why he was a head coach in the league. He knows so much, he’s so knowledgeable. Being able to learn more about coverage from him has been really great. It’s been a great addition to us and I’m excited to work with him this year.”
More Steelers practice observations
- Beyond Harris, Claypool, Johnson, and Freiermuth, the Steelers on Monday were without safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who is on the NFI. Backup running back Jeremy McNichols also didn’t practice and is getting his injured shoulder evaluated. The only good injury news for the Steelers? Week 1 is still nearly six weeks off.
- Linebacker Myles Jack had an excellent practice Monday, both in “backs on backers” blocking and 11-on-11 drills. An active, effective Jack would be a huge lift for a Steelers defense led by superstars T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward.
- Beyond quarterback, the only significant position battle at this stage in camp is the left guard job. Kendrick Green and Kevin Dotson rotated with the first team Monday.