The Pittsburgh Steelers assembled together at Heinz Field for the first time in pads of 2021 Training Camp on Wednesday. Since the Steelers were back on the field, we were also given the typical media session from head coach Mike Tomlin. Therefore, it’s time to look at the players mentioned by Coach Tomlin during his media time. Remember these are current players where a specific question was asked during the Q&A period.
It’s no surprise that the first day of padded practice had many eyes on first-round draft pick Najee Harris. Coach Tomlin’s first question of the day was about the “backs on backers” drill and he specifically mentioned Harris in his response.
“I think probably the most significant drill that we see is the one that will run next time we’re in pads: Tight ends vs. outside linebackers in the run blocking. That end of the line, that ability to control the end of the line or set an edge on defense I think is more revealing than any other little compartmental drill that we do. Obviously the backs on backers is important because it’s more of an attitude drill. It’s an opportunity to get to know some of these people. I think we all saw that Najee likes competition and he doesn’t run away from it, he runs to it. And that was something about the drill that was exciting from my perspective today.
Coach Tomlin was asked a follow up question where a statement was first made about Harris struggling with his first few reps of the “backs on backers” drill. Coach Tomlin did not wait for the question and gave his response.
“I would disagree with that. Your words, not mine.”
Coach Tomlion was finally asked if he expected Harris to get stronger as the drill went on.
“His demeanor was telling. It was exciting that he had an appetite for that action.”
Coach Tomlin was later asked another question about what he saw from Harris and the run game as a whole in their first live action.
“It was a good sample, but a very small sample size. I’m not rushing to judge or draw conclusions or seek comfort. We’re all kind of in that mindset, right? We drafted the guy in the first round, you can trick yourself into believing everything. ‘Boy, he’s ready to go.’ No, it’s just one practice. It was a good practice and we’ll see what the subsequent practices have for us in that regard.”
Another of the Steelers 2021 draft picks many are keeping an eye on is third-round draft pick Kendrick Green. Coach Tomlin was asked what kind of growth he wants to see from Green as training camp goes on.
“I just want to see him digest the verbiage, to do a good job of communicating and being kind of that hub, or focal point, of the offensive line. He’s embracing that element of it. I like what he did from a conditioning standpoint between the end of the spring and now. You can see he’s one of the guys that took a step that month or so away from us. He really spent that time in the right areas and it should be continually beneficial for him as we continue through the process.”
Alex Highsmith & Chukwuma Okorafor
The final question asked of Coach Tomlin in the press conference was about his impressions of the run game on both offense and defense. Coach Tomlin specifically brought up the play Alex Highsmith. He also noted that it was not Chukwuma Okorafor who Highsmith was facing during practice.
“It’s ebb and flow. It’s what you expect when you’re in my position this time of year. It was some good plays had on both sides of the ball. I thought we had a couple runs or two initially early. I thought 56 particularly, Alex Highsmith, was stout at the point of attack when we ran over in that direction. But again, he’s playing against a younger guy who’s first exposure to the drill because we didn’t have Chuks in there. So you can paint with a broad brush and tell whatever story you want to tell this time of year, I’m just going to keep snapping the ball and let those guys reveal to us who and what they are.”
A portion of Mike Tomlin’s interview can be seen below as well as a link to the full interview on the Steelers’ YouTube channel.