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Camp Position Preview: Running Back

This is the third in a series looking at the Steelers by position heading into their 2024 training camp at Saint Vincent College July 24. Today: running back

Players (8): Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Cordarrelle Patterson, La'Mical Perine, Jonathan Ward, Daijun Edwards, Aaron Shampkin, Jack Colletto (FB)

If there's a position on the Steelers' roster that should be celebrating the team's hiring of Arthur Smith as offensive coordinator, the running backs top that list.

In the five seasons in which Smith has been an offensive coordinator or head coach, his teams have finished in the top 10 four times, including three top-five finishes.

Given the Steelers have had one of the most successful running back duos in the league the past two seasons, that should be a good pairing.

Najee Harris posted his third 1,000-yard season in as many years for the Steelers last season, finishing with 1,205 total yards from scrimmage. Warren, meanwhile, rushed for nearly 800 yards while putting up 1,154 scrimmage yards.

In today's NFL, having two capable runners is almost a must. And the Steelers most certainly do.

"Najee and Jaylen have had a lot of success in this league," Smith said. "You break it down, give or take a 17-game season, you hope to have 1100-plus plays, and if you're balanced on offense, give or take where your carries are at, nobody, even Derrick Henry, we didn't ask him to carry the ball 550 times. So there's plenty of carries to go around, whether that's traditionally or non-traditionally. But (have been) been really excited to get the work of both those guys.

That work will continue as the Steelers head into training camp at Saint Vincent College. And working out how to mix Harris and Warren into the new offense will be one of the big tasks.

Last season in Atlanta, rookie Bijan Robinson got 214 carries, while Tyler Algier, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2022, recorded 186.

Harris got 255 carries in 2023, while Warren had 149, though Warren was utilized more in the passing game as the team's third-down back, registering 61 receptions to 29 for Harris.

In three NFL seasons, Harris has rushed for 3,269 yards, serving as the Steelers' workhorse, though his carries have dropped in every one of his seasons, going from a from 307 in 2021 to 255 last season.

Warren's emergence has allowed the Steelers to be more thoughtful in his usage, as he saw his carries nearly double from 77 as an undrafted rookie in 2022.

Warren is one of the better pass-catching running backs in the league and both were among the league leaders in broken tackles, with Harris finishing with 30 and Warren posting 27.

The Steelers added dynamic kick returner/running back Cordarrelle Patterson in the offseason. Patterson, a 12-year veteran, spent the first nine seasons of his career as a wide receiver before joining Smith in Atlanta and moving to running back.

He rushed for more than 1,300 yards in 2021 and 2022 before giving way to Algier and Robinson in 2023. But he's a hard-nosed runner with elusiveness, as evidenced by his NFL-record nine kickoff return scores, which has helped him earn All-Pro honors seven times, including four on the first team.

Patterson has over 2,500 career rushing yards and also has caught 298 passes for nearly 2,800 yards.

The Steelers also have veterans La'Mical Perine, Jonathan Ward and Aaron Shampkin on the roster, and all have varying degrees of success in the NFL.

Perine, a third-year player out of Florida, has 340 rushing yards on 94 career carries. He spent the 2023 season with Kansas City and had 76 yards on 21 carries in a win over the Chargers last season.

Ward is a five-year veteran who spent three seasons with the Cardinals and two with the Titans. He's appeared sparingly as a runner in his career, logging just 17 carries for 69 yards, a 4.1-yard per carry average.

Shampkin has spent time on the practice squads of the Chargers, Colts and Cowboys.

The one rookie runner on the roster is former Georgia star Daijun Edwards.

Edwards (5-10, 201 pounds) rushed for over 1,600 yards with 20 touchdowns the past two seasons for the Bulldogs, catching 34 combined passes, as well.

The Steelers also have one true fullback on their roster in 6-foot-3, 237-pound Jack Colletto, a first-year player out of Oregon State.

Colletto initially signed with the 49ers in 2023, but was released at the end of training camp.

Colletto and tight end Connor Heyward will handle the blocking duties in training camp when the Steelers want to employ a fullback.

A quarterback turned linebacker/fullback, Colletto earned the Paul Hornung Award as college football's most versatile player in 2022 at Oregon State.