‘An all-out new beginning’ for the Steelers
For the first time since 2003, the Pittsburgh Steelers will hold training camp without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as they prepare for their first season in Acrisure Stadium.
The Steelers’ home field had been called Heinz Field since 2001, but it has a new name for 2022.
“It’s new beginnings where we’re building our identity this year,” Pittsburgh running back Najee Harris said during an appearance on “The Rich Eisen Show” last week. “We’re trying to start over. We got a new quarterback, so it’s a lot of changes going around. A lot of guys retired last year that we didn’t expect, so I think this is an all-out just new beginning of the Pittsburgh Steelers and what we’re about this year, so for me to be a part of it is always a good thing and to create some good memories on that field at the — I don’t even know how to say the name — Acrisure Field or whatever you say.”
Harris scored the final touchdown that went up on the scoreboard framed by the giant ketchup bottles on a 37-yard run with 51 seconds left in a 26-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Jan. 3. The former Alabama All-American said it would be “dope to be the first to score” at Acrisure Stadium.
While the Steelers’ stadium will be basically the same except for the name and the ketchup decor, the quarterback will be all-new with Roethlisberger’s retirement after 18 NFL seasons.
Pittsburgh has Kenny Pickett, Mason Rudolph and Mitchell Trubisky vying to succeed Roethlisberger. Pickett came aboard as the 20th pick in the NFL Draft on April 28, former Chicago Bears starter Trubisky signed as a free agent after a season as a backup with the Buffalo Bills and Rudolph returns after making 10 starts in three seasons as Roethlisberger’s backup.
“All the guys that we have there, they all look good — Trubisky, Mason and, of course, Kenny,” Harris said. “They all look good. They’re all battling it out. They’re all taking charge. They’re all embracing what it is. The competition, I think that’s what brings the best out of all of us in this sport is the competition, so for them to bring these guys in to compete it out and battle it out and know that your job isn’t secured yet, I think that brings out the best in us.
“When this camp starts up on the 26th, I think we’re going to have a good identity of who’s going to be the guy. But as of now, we only had OTAs, rookie minicamp, it’s kind of hard to say who’s the guy right now. But this upcoming week, we’re going to see for sure.”
After joining the Steelers as the 24th selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, Harris ran for 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns on 307 carries and caught 74 passes for 467 yards and three touchdowns. Pittsburgh had a 9-7-1 record in the regular season before the 2021 campaign ended with a 42-21 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round of the AFC playoffs. That wasn’t the end of the season for Harris, though, as he went on to play in the Pro Bowl.
“I learned a lot from last year,” Harris said. “We had a lot of young guys on offense. We still do got a lot of young guys, but the experience that we had last year and we bring it on to this year, the games that we were in, the difference between college and the NFL, the speed, learning X’s and O’s, learning the differences of alignments and what the defense is seeing in certain types of things, I think that all carries on to this year to find out what’s our identity.
“For Najee, what does Najee have to be for this team? I’m trying to be everything I can for it to be a problem for the opposing team’s defense, so they can look at me a lot and maybe pack the box up and we can get a lot of one-on-ones with Chase (Claypool), Diontae (Johnson), Pat (Freiermuth) and all the other guys.”
With 307 rushing attempts and 74 receptions, Harris led the NFL last season with 381 touches. Only five rookies in NFL history have had more touches than Harris did in 2021.
“I didn’t have an issue with it,” Harris said of the workload. “It was the media who had an issue with it. I told them every game, I was like, ‘Man, look it, if this is the key to winning, I can carry a load.’ I train to carry loads. It’s not something I haven’t done before. I did it in college, high school.”
Harris ran for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns on 251 carries and caught 43 passes for 425 yards and four touchdowns for the Crimson Tide’s undefeated 2020 CFP national championship team. Harris broke the SEC record for single-season touchdowns in 2020 and tied the league record for career touchdowns with 57.
The Steelers are scheduled to report for training camp on Tuesday at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh will start its three-game preseason schedule on Aug. 13 against the Seattle Seahawks and kick off its regular-season slate on Sept. 11 against the Cincinnati Bengals.