Cam Heyward is mentoring Najee Harris for Mike Tomlin’s side project 2022

Mike Tomlin’s focus and mission is to make the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers the best version they can be. But his side quest is for Cam Heyward to turn Najee Harris into the next Cam Heyward. Tomlin spoke about what he calls his “side project” of the season, making Heyward mentor Harris and make him the team leader. Tomlin explained why in an amazing interview aired on Tuesday by The Pivot Podcast and hosted by Fred Taylor, Channing Crowder and Ryan Clark.

“I’m bridging a temporary managerial relationship between Cam Heyward and Najee,” Tomlin told the show. “Najee is a leader. He was a born leader. He has good football ethics. He sees the game the way we see the game. He wants to be part of what is right. So that has to be cultivated. That has to be trained. Really, over the past year I’ve challenged Cam Heyward to help him grow that way.”

In attitude and spirit, Harris and a young Heyward were similar people. Different personalities, Harris is much more outgoing and outspoken, joking around and sometimes trolling the media, but he’s grounded, humble and knows there’s a lot to learn. Heyward had the advantage of having leaders in his position group. Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, three perfect guys to learn from, not to mention a legendary coach in John Mitchell.

After being on the bench for two years, the room became Heyward’s property and he has raced it, becoming an All Pro player and All Pro person. Especially now without Ben Roethlisberger, Heyward is a leader and face of the franchise. And will Harris help strengthen that side of himself to positively impact the attacking side of football.

“We’re giving this young man our time and space,” Tomlin said of how the “program” works. “We will not ask him to lead without teaching him how to do it. What it looks like, what it contains. And not just in our words, but in our deeds.”

Heyward is the perfect man to follow in word and deed. Few take the game as seriously as he does. Few work as hard as he does. Few push the ball like he does. Harris has shown those elements before, showing great form at camp last year, taking on the role of workhorse and doing the little things that are easy to overlook like chasing that interception last year.

With what is likely football’s most recent offense, Pittsburgh needs fresh leadership, and it’s a fool to turn someone into one. Harris has this natural quality and while he hasn’t had to be a much leader on the field before, he will take on that role in Pittsburgh starting this year.

Tomlin retold a story that became fashionable last year when Heyward sent a Christmas tree to Harris’ house after the team found out Harris wasn’t in the Christmas spirit.

“We just want him to know that in football we need certain things from him and so we’re going to help him with the other aspects of his life because I can’t run the ball and neither can Cam Heyward. You know what I mean? Yes. So we have the other stuff. We can help you with those other things.”

Pittsburgh will depend heavily on Najee Harris this season, Tomlin admitted in the interview. The Steelers need to run the ball better than they have in the last three seasons. Harris is entering his sophomore year and has proven he can be a starting caliber. The offensive line needs to show it’s an impressive front five. If those pieces don’t work together, the offense will last a long year and Pittsburgh’s chances of making it into the postseason will hover near zero. Quality time between Harris and Heyward is valuable, but by mid-January the Steelers are hoping to have their sights set on a Super Bowl.

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