‘He Can Be Even Better If He’s A Little Lighter:’ Le’Veon Bell Thinks Losing Weight Can Help Najee Harris Improve
Former Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Le’Veon Bell was a guest on Cameron Heyward’s Not Just Football podcast, and he talked about what he thinks current Steelers RB Najee Harris can do to improve his game.
Bell took a big jump from his rookie season, where he accumulated 860 rushing yards in 13 games, to his sophomore season. In his second year, he ran for 1,361 yards and became more of a factor in the passing game (his receptions increased from 45 to 83), and he was named a first-team All-Pro.
Talking to Heyward, Bell credited that leap with getting lighter, as he went from what he approximated to be 235-240 pounds his rookie year down to 215 pounds in his second season.
“Sometimes it’s just the extra step, that’s all you need to take a run from two yards to about nine, just barely squeeze the hole.” He credited the speed of NFL defenders for limiting him when he couldn’t quite burst through the hole, so he made it a goal to lose weight ahead of his second year.
He praised Harris’ ability to find the hole and create runs when there isn’t much space, but he thinks that if he gets lighter, he’ll find more success.
“Najee, I think he’s a special runner. I think he can see the holes, I even think he knows how to set up his runs,” Bell said. “Some guys need a hole, some guys really need it, and some guys know how to finesse a run and know how to set it up to make something out of nothing, and he’s so good at that. And I think he can be even better if he’s a little lighter.”
It’s an interesting take by Bell, and so much of Harris’ prowess comes from his power. But Bell never really lost his power despite losing weight and getting leaner, and he thinks that it’s something Harris can benefit from as well.
It’s no secret that everyone’s bigger, stronger and faster at the NFL level, and that includes defensive linemen. Just because those players are bigger doesn’t mean they’re slower, and they can still close up holes and make plays in the backfield. If Harris doesn’t have the requisite burst to hit the hole, he’s going to get swallowed up in the backfield, no matter how good he is at setting his runs up.
Despite Bell thinking that Harris can be better, he still thinks that Pittsburgh’s run game is going to bounce back from their slow start to the season.
“I think the more reps the guys get together, it becomes more fundamental. Guys ain’t got to think as much. The more you do it, it kind of becomes second nature,” Bell said. He added that it’s a difficult adjustment from seeing similar looks in training camp versus different looks against different opponents early in the season.
“The more you see it, obviously the more comfortable guys get. It’s just kind of hard at the beginning of the year just cause you’re so used to seeing your own team,” he explained. “I feel like, they got the talent to get there, obviously it’s gonna take hella practice, hella reps.”
He explained that it took until around Week Six for the run game to be able to heat up during his Pittsburgh tenure.
The Steelers’ run game this year has a lot of talent with Harris and Jaylen Warren, but they’ve only cracked the 100-yard mark once this season, which came in their Week Three win last Sunday over the Las Vegas Raiders. It was a performance to build on, and it wasn’t perfect by any means, but it showed growth. It speaks to Bell’s point about the game getting easier and becoming more natural as the season progresses, and hopefully, the Steelers run game continues to trend upward in the coming weeks.
While Harris (and Warren too, to be fair) have struggled at creating positive runs, Harris has been able to break off a few long runs this season. He had a 24-yard run in Week One against the San Francisco 49ers and a 17-yard run against the Raiders, so he’s shown the ability to get to the second-and-third level. But Bell thinks if he gets lighter, it’ll add the quickness necessary to have just enough burst to help him hit holes and make him that much better and more consistent.
It’s an interesting thought, especially coming from Bell who himself transitioned from a bigger back to a smaller runner. But that also came with injury problems which impeded his career, and while there’s no telling that the same could happen with Harris, it’s at least worth mentioning.
We’ll see if down the line if Harris does look to drop some weight and heed Bell’s advice, but for now, he’s focusing on having the best possible season he can. His 54-yard performance on Sunday provided some positive momentum going forward, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Harris hit the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the third straight season.
Watch the full Not Just Football episode below: