By Jeremy Hritz
This is Part II of a multi-part series previewing the Steelers 2022 season, leading up to the first regular season contest against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Harris is entering his second year, and he showed in 2021 that he is more than capable of carrying the load and being the workhorse running back that has come to be a staple of Pittsburgh Steelers lore. Harris rushed for over 1200 yards behind a god-awful offensive line, and good thing he has that experience, as the 2022 version of the OL may be just as bad. Harris is both a physical runner who wears defenses down, but also versatile pass catcher to make plays in the passing game. If the line can improve even incrementally, it is not a stretch to forecast at least 1500 rushing yards for the second year runner out of Alabama. The offense will run through Harris, and his performance will be indicative of the success of the Steelers in 2022.
The Steelers had a find in this year’s UDRFA class in Jaylen Warren, who made the team by showing up consistently not only in training camp, but also in preseason games. Warren is a shifty, one-cut, physical runner who always seems to scratch and claw forward for at least three yards. He will be given a true opportunity to be the #2 behind Harris, and that is a win for the Steelers offense. Warren is versatile as well, in addition to being a quality pass protector, so fans should be excited about his contributions to the team as the backup runner and potentially, third down back.
Bennie Snell returns for his 4th season because of his experience and value on special teams, but he more than likely will lose some carries to Warren. Snell is not spectacular, but he has proven that he can fill in when needed and be productive. It’s safe to forecast this is Snell’s final year with the Steelers.
The Lone Ranger at Fullback
This is simple: Derek Watt returns as the Steelers fullback. Under-utilized and really not a focal point of the offense, you have to wonder if that increases this year with a new quarterback and the potential now for Canada to run the type of offense he desires. Regardless of whether or not he contributes on offense, the other Watt is a special teams demon and a leader in the locker room. While he was injured for the duration of preseason, ensuring he is ready for week #1 is the priority. Offers many intangibles beyond his play on the field.
Tight End May Be the Strongest Position for the Steelers
As I stated this offseason, tight end is a quiet position of strength for the Steelers, and I am even more confident in the assertion following training camp and preseason contests. Pat Freiermuth is poised for a breakout season and is emerging as a legitimate #1 TE, able to stretch the field, in addition to making catches in traffic. He will be a go-to target for either Trubisky or Pickett on third down, and we could be talking about a Pro Bowl season for Freiermuth come December.
Zach Gentry is the backup TE to Freiermuth, and the 4th year player continues to make strides in his conversion from QB to TE. Gentry is massive at 6’8 and appears to have finally figured out the position, which is good news for the team. He came on in 2021, and it is reasonable to expect another incremental jump for him in 2022. A good blocker and pass catcher, he is the perfect complement to Freiermuth, so expect to see several 2 tight end sets in the offense.
The number 3 tight end this season will be Connor Heyward, the rookie 6th round selection out of Michigan State. Heyward had an excellent camp, showing versatility, and the ability to make plays. The game is not too big for him as a first-year player, and even though he will be #3, he will get plenty of snaps in 2022. Heyward, brother of Cameron, will be utilized creatively in this Matt Canada offense, even carrying the ball at times, and he has the potential to be a surprise to opponents. Keep an eye on Heyward, as he is a gamer and true football player in every sense of the concepts.