Saturday, May 15
Looking out for No. 1: Najee Harris is getting a lot of attention during the Steelers rookie minicamp this weekend at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
One of the big reasons isn't just because he's the team's No. 1 draft pick this year, but he is the only running back in camp, so running backs coach Eddie Faulkner can spend more time focusing on him.
And he isn't he only one. Everyone is focusing on him and wants to know how Harris is looking, what he has learned so far, how he is picking things up.
The answer to the questions…it's still early.
"I just came in here to learn the offense and bond with some of the guys here," said Harris. "The main goal is to get better each day. That's it."
It doesn't seem like he is going to have a problem in any of those areas. Harris is a player who from the time he started playing football set his goals to continually improve, always knowing that the competition is going to get stiffer with each step he takes. While the competition he faced while playing at Alabama was among the best in college football, he is well aware the NFL is a whole different story, and he is treating it that way.
"I am starting back to step one, all the basics," said Harris. "More explosive footwork, have better eyes catching the ball, be a more explosive player. The competition level, the difference between college and NFL is two different places. The NFL you play against the best. It's all about starting with step one and building all of the way up. Every time you reach a new pinnacle in life, I want to start at step one and work my way up."
Harris, who was a leader for the Crimson Tide, admitted that the leadership role is one he plans on building with experience with the Steelers, but when he was asked if he would just 'blend in,' it became clear he isn't one to take a back seat.
"Well, I would never try to blend in nowhere. I try to stand out in my own way. I am me. I feel like I always stand out," said Harris. "Becoming a leader, I feel like that comes in time. I barely know the offense. The veterans aren't here. I haven't met them. Trying to move at a fast pace, it's always about taking things step by step by step. When it comes that time to become a leader, then it is. It's not something I am thinking about. It's just learning the offense, my teammates, that type of person they are bonding with them, so I can become someone they can trust and find ways to help them out if I can and from there, what happens, happens."
Learning the offense: Minicamp weekend is an opportunity to get an introduction to the offense, not flat out learn it, and for Harris it's aided by the fact that it's similar to the one he was a part of at Alabama.
"There are a lot of things that's are similar, just different terminology, the same meaning at the end of the day," said Harris. "The one thing that is similar is how they are going to line me up out wide like they did in college, utilize the running back in the passing game out wide, in the slot, at the X position. The schemes of the runs, the inside zone, the outside zone. A lot of what they are doing in their offense is a lot of what we did. Putting the players in the best position to make a play. Not doing a lot of thinking, just fast playing. The more you think, the slower you play. It seems like they are trying to make everything as easy as possible so the players can just play fast and really use the best of their ability.
"The way they utilize their players, have the whole scheme of everything. I am going to do as much as I can to learn. I am just trying to learn everything about the whole program, the ins and outs of the offense. I am still learning. I am trying to be a sponge as much as I can."
-- Blog entry by Teresa Varley
He said it: Harris on his first impression of Coach Mike Tomlin:
"One thing I have taken away from him so far is he is a people person," said Harris. "He takes time out of his day to get to know the players that he has drafted and who he has. He looks for the best. He really cares for the players. You can tell by the way he comes into the locker room and chops it up with people. He is a ball of energy. A lot of people feed off of that. He is somebody that it's easy to want to play for because he is such a likeable person."
Making the conversion: A few days after he was drafted, Quincy Roche got a delivery to his home in Maryland that was welcomed with open arms.
A box of Terrible Towels.
And the first thing he did was hand them out to everyone in his house, working on converting his family from being Ravens fans to Steelers fans with a little black and gold.
"I passed them around to everybody," said Roche. "Everybody in my house got one. I told them one step at a time. We'll get them converted."
In the meantime, Roche is being converted from a college player to an NFL player during the Steelers rookie minicamp at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. He is quickly learning the ropes, while at the same time knowing the learning will continue for quite a while.
"It's everything I expected," said Roche. "Great people around here. Great organization. We got to hit the field a couple of times. Just feeling out the NFL process. I am excited. Happy to be here. Ready to get to work."
Roche, who played defensive end primarily in college, said he has no problem making the transition to outside linebacker being that he played standing up a lot from his defensive end position.
"I stood up a lot at Temple, stood up at Miami," said Roche. "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. I am just trying to get better every day, work on the little things and keep developing."
The sixth-round pick, who transferred to Miami from Temple for his final season, knows the key is just giving it everything he has to stand out, especially in the early stages.
"Just getting better every day," said Roche. "When they say something, I am listening to it. I am showing improvement. Bringing energy, bringing effort. Those are all things I can control. Know the playbook to a 'T' right now. I know I will make mistakes here and there.
"I just want to control the things I can control. Being a high character guy around the building. Controlling my effort, my energy, being a good leader. Those things are well in my control."
One thing that wasn't fully in his control was his jersey number. Roche is wearing No. 48, the number worn by Bud Dupree before he signed with the Tennessee Titans as an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
"I have seen him on film, seen him on tape," said Roche. "He is a great player. I didn't really pick the number. It was one of the best numbers available. I am just ready to get to work, earn my keep."
-- Blog entry by Teresa Varley
Friday, May 14
Star of the show: The roster for the rookie minicamp the Steelers are staging this weekend includes a quarterback from Slippery Rock (Ronald Rivers III) and a defensive lineman from Coastal Carolina (Sterling Johnson), two of the five players invited on a tryout.
The headliner is No. 1 pick Najee Harris, the running back from Alabama.
"Najee's impressive, obviously," tight end Pat Freiermuth (second round, Penn State) observed. "He's a heckuva of a running back. Through 'walk through' today, he makes very good cuts and he's very smart with the football and he's a really good guy.
"I've kind of connected with him and (center) Kendrick (Green, third round, Illinois). Kendrick's a really good guy, too. He's very big and built. They're both very good guys."
Unveiling the offense: Those in attendance today got a first on-the-field look at what new offensive coordinator Matt Canada has planned for his platoon.
"I love my fit, it's perfect," Freiermuth said. "I'm very happy that I'm here in Pittsburgh.
"The offense is awesome. I think it's very complex and I think it's going to utilize the talent we have on this roster. From the first 'walk through' today, felt great, felt like I understand most of what's going on
"It's complex but it's simple in the same way. I think Coach Canada puts guys on the field where they can create mismatches and I think he does a good job just kind of understanding and kind of figuring out what the defense's weaknesses are. I can kind of see that with the looks he gave out there for the 'look' team today and what he's put together."
Freiermuth said there's "a decent amount" of pre-snap motion.
He's also anticipating a healthy dose of two-tight ends sets with veteran tight end Eric Ebron.
"For sure," Freiermuth said. "Ebron, he's an awesome guy. He's a hell of a football player. I'm excited to learn for him and kind of see what is tasked for us in '12 personnel,' what we do, what we're asked to do. I'm excited to see that stuff."
Numbers game: Green was recognizable while wearing the No. 53, which has been passed down to him by retired center Maurkice Pouncey.
"They didn't hand it to me," Green said. "I wore No. 53 since high school. Obviously, at Illinois I wore it, as well, so I kind of requested it.
"I was fully prepared for them to keep it off but they let me have it. I got big shoes to fill. I'm going to work toward that."
Pouncey and Green haven't talked about the number, Green said. "He reached out to me the day after the draft to tell me congratulations, and just get ready to work, play hard, be a Steeler."
Dinner with Ben: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has likewise reached out to Freiermuth.
"He actually called me the day after I got drafted, he reached out," Freiermuth said. "He's an awesome guy. He's taking me and Najee and Kendrick out to dinner tomorrow night. He texted back and forth a couple times with us.
"It's pretty cool, seeing him when I was a young kid, 'Oh, that's Ben Roethlisberger.' Now, my locker's right next to him, so it's pretty cool, definitely surreal."
Name change requested: Freiermuth was referenced as "Baby Gronk" during his days at Penn State, but would prefer the homage to Rob Gronkowski not follow Freiermuth into the NFL.
"I guess it came about just because I'm from that area," said Freiermuth, a native of Merrimac, Mass. "I wore No. 87, obviously 'Gronk' played for the Patriots for a long time. I grew up kind of watching him.
"I hate it. I think it's pretty annoying. I'm trying to get away from that nickname. I don't want to be called that."
-- Blog entries by Mike Prisuta
The label is right: Sometimes players aren't excited about being labeled, about having a nickname hung on them, about having a label and a nickname create a level of expectation about them before they've had a chance to forge an identity for themselves.
Tre Norwood doesn't seem to care.
The first of the Steelers' two picks in the seventh round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Norwood was referred to that very day by Coach Mike Tomlin as a Swiss Army Knife because of his ability to play a variety of different positions in the secondary and fill a variety of roles on a defense. So it wasn't surprising that Norwood's first media availability during this weekend's rookie minicamp at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex was dominated with questions about that aspect of his play.
"First and foremost, I'm just glad to be around the guys, in the facility, and just playing football because it's been a while since I've been able to get back on the field," said Norwood. "For me, I'm a guy who can play any position on the back end, wherever the coaches need me. Whatever they need me to do, I'm all for it."
Having a Swiss Army Knife on a defense is a valuable asset to a team, and being a Swiss Army Knife can be a valuable asset for a player trying to make his way in the NFL. That's the path followed by Cam Sutton, who started his professional career as someone valued for his versatility, and in 2021 he will begin training camp as a starting cornerback.
"Cam and I train at the same spot in Tampa, so I knew of him even before I got here," said Norwood. "He reached out to me after the draft, extended his arms as a big brother, as a guy who has been here. I can't wait to sit down with him and pick his brain, and try to get to know more about this defense so I can learn the ins and outs and continue to get better."
During his three full seasons at Oklahoma, Norwood played cornerback, nickel back, and safety, and he answered like a savvy veteran when asked where he was most comfortable.
"My first two years in college I played mostly corner, and this last season I played a lot of nickel and safety," said Norwood. "For me, my comfort level is at any one of them, because I've gotten a lot of reps at each of those positions, so whatever the coaches see for me, wherever I can help the team out best, that's where I'll be most comfortable."
And wherever he lines up on the field, Norwood understands what he's there to do: Get his hands on the football and take it away from the opposing offense. In 39 college games, Norwood had 21 passes defensed and six interceptions.
"Turnover margin is a key part to winning the game, and so being able to go out and make plays on the ball, whether it's an interception or a forced fumble, those things are huge," said Norwood. "I see myself as a guy who can go out and make plays when the ball is in the air."
Stepping up at a young age: What started as a boy in middle school stepping up to do something to help the team has blossomed into a real opportunity at a career in professional football.
It has been an unusual path that brought Pressley Harvin III from Sumpter High School to Georgia Tech and then to the Steelers as their second choice in the seventh round and the only punter selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. But so much about Harvin is unusual, starting with the way he looks.
"I'm a bigger dude," said Harvin, listed by the Steelers at 6-foot, 255 pounds, during the first of the team's three-day rookie minicamp at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. "I always get the question, 'What position do you play?' I let people try to guess themselves about my position. It's always defensive line, or fullback, or linebacker, and then when I tell people I'm a punter they're kind of astonished at the fact that I said that. When you look at me, I don't look like it, but I put in a lot of dedication into getting myself to where I am today. I thrive on it. A lot of people are unique in their own way, and mine is my size. I bring something else to the table. I have a strong leg."
Harvin's leg propelled him to win the Ray Guy Award in 2020 as the nation's top punter, and that made Harvin the first African-American to win the award in its 21-year history. Harvin averaged 48.0 yards on 45 punts in 2020, and he completed his college career with a 44.7 average.
"Growing up, I played offensive line when I first started playing pee-wee football," said Harvin. "When I got to middle school, we had an open tryout. I was playing center at the time, and nobody else wanted to kick. I just took the initiative and decided to try to help the team out, see how it goes. I might not do it forever, but I'll try it out. (And) here we are today, many, many years later because of that one decision I made one day at practice trying not to be selfish."
Harvin's competition for a spot on the Steelers roster will come from veteran Jordan Berry, who was cut at the end of training camp last summer but ultimately came back when Dustin Colquitt didn't fare well as his replacement.
"It's been a journey," said Harvin. "I played tight end freshman year in high school and then took full responsibility for punting my sophomore year. And that's when I came to the decision that this is something I could be really good at."
-- Blog entries by Bob Labriola