What We Learned Day 2 of Steelers Rookie Minicamp

The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive playbook has an Alabama feel, which means plenty of Najee Harris.
Publish date:

PITTSBURGH -- Day 2 of rookie minicamp is in the books, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are one weekend into preparation for the 2021 season.

The Steelers had 12 first-year players, 17 members of their rookie class and five tryouts at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex Friday and Saturday. Players worked with position coaches to establish ground with the team as a ramp-up to OTAs and mandatory minicamp later this month.

"Our goals are to get an assessment of conditioning and for them to have an opportunity to display their conditioning," head coach Mike Tomlin said on Saturday. "To do some teaching and learning, to understand how they take in information individually and collectively. To deliver information to them, to utilize all our teach tools in an effort to get to know them from a teaching and learning perspective."

Tomlin, first-round pick Najee Harris and sixth-round pick Quincy Roche spoke with the media following practice and left plenty of laughs - and insight - into the first weekend on the field.

Najee Harris Came Ready to Go

Tomlin didn't want to talk about the offensive chemistry between Harris and Pat Freiermuth or whether or not the undrafted rookies impressed at camp. What he did talk about, though, was Harris.

"He is as highly conditioned as anybody out there and that is a great place to begin," Tomlin said. "I think he has a nice foundation from that perspective. He is a sharp guy. He is a football guy. You can tell he is passionate about football. He can articulate the game very well, so it's a lot to be excited about.

Harris has posted pictures on social media of him working out with NFL Pro Bowler Adrian Peterson. He also has plenty of ties with NFL players through his hometown in the Bay Area, so you'd have to imagine he's not new to professional-style workouts.

Tomlin didn't do much talking when it came to any other player.

Harris had great things to say about his new coach as well.

"One thing that I've taken away so far is that he's really a people person," Harris said on Tomlin. "He really takes time out of his day to really get to know the players. He really looks out and really cares for the players.

"You can tell by the way he comes in the locker room and chops it up with people. He always has a ball of energy. A lot of people feed off that. He's somebody that he's easy to want to play for."

Steelers Playbook Has an Alabama Vibe, According to Najee Harris

Harris hasn't spent too much time learning the Steelers' offensive approach, but he has taken time to glance through the playbook.

"A lot of things that are similar are how they are going to line me up wide," Harris said. "Utilize the running back in the passing game. Out wide, the slot, the X position." 

Harris said on draft night that he believed he was a wide receiver and talked heavily on his receiving abilities. 

"I think I can line up out wide, I think I can line up in the slot," Harris said, following his pick at No. 24. "I think I'm a mismatch with the linebackers. I feel like if a DB or a corner is not sticking me there, then it's a mismatch on a linebacker."

Matt Canada's offense should bring a different feel for the entire team, but the usage of Harris will be interesting. At Alabama, Harris recorded 30 touchdowns in 2020 and caught 11 touchdowns over the last two years of his career. 

"The way they utilize their players and how they have the whole scheme of everything, it's something someone can really learn off of, especially being a rookie like me," Harris said on Canada and running backs coach Eddie Faulkner. "I'm going to do as much as I can to learn from him as much as I am from [running backs coach Eddie Faulker]."

We don't know exactly how the Steelers will utilize Harris this season, but if he understands the playbook this early, it'll be easier to transition him into game speed this summer. 

Maybe Week 1 is slow, and the advantages of having a player like Harris are brought upon slowly. Or maybe, the Steelers are about to unleash a new offense for Big Ben's "last ride."

Najee is Going to be Fun to Interview

Harris is hilarious. Obviously, everyone expects the first-round pick to be exciting on the field, but it's already evident he's going to be a fan favorite (and media favorite) during interviews.

It's pretty clear you'll need to stay on your toes when asking Harris a question. He's got no problem handing out "what are you talking about" looks when he knows you're asking a bad question.

Maybe his only downside is he doesn't realize Pittsburgh media hasn't followed him since high school like Alabama reporters did.

Quincy Roche Can Play Both Sides

The Steelers sixth-round pick will need to move from defensive end to edge as he transitions into the NFL. Roche, who spent three years at Temple before grad transferring to Miami, is willing to make that move and feels he's comfortable playing as an outside linebacker full-time.

"I stood up a lot at Temple, stood up at Miami," Roche said. "I put my hand in the dirt some. I am comfortable for the most part because I have done it before. My position was titled defensive end, but I have done all kinds of things. I had all kinds of packages. I always stood up. I am comfortable."

He also stated he's played both left and right sides during his time in college. The Steelers are hoping Roche can provide depth behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith and will need to play both sides as a backup in 2021.

Roche's Family is Slowing Coming Over From the Dark Side

Roche got drafted into the wrong team, but so be it in the NFL. The Maryland-native grew up a Baltimore Ravens fan, and his family is pretty far from your typical black and gold jersey wearers on Sundays.

They're trying, though.

Roche said the Steelers sent him a box of Terrible Towels to hand out to his family. A nice gesture from an organization that's trying hard to ease some Ravens fans across the state border.

"I told them one step at a time," Roche said with a laugh. "We'll get them converted."

Tomlin isn't Judging Yet

Tomlin didn't have a bad thing to say about any player - seriously. The head coach took to Zoom to discuss the learning curve he and his coaching staff are helping the rookies through, and that's it.

"I hadn't spent a lot of time focusing on things I don't like," Tomlin said. "We are just trying to get an assessment of conditioning, get an assessment of how they learn and how to teach them about some details relative to their positions and to work on teamwork. It's more about those things than to assess the things you like or don't like. It's just much too early for that."

The Steelers had five tryouts and eight undrafted free agents attend camp, hoping to find a place in Pittsburgh. Their hard work will need to continue into OTAs and mandatory minicamp if they hope to make this team. 

Noah Strackbein is a Publisher with AllSteelers. Follow Noah on Twitter @NoahStrack, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.