Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis has a vested interest in the Pittsburgh Steelers' upcoming season, perhaps even more than most years.
Bettis, who ranks second in Steelers franchise history with 10,571 of his 13,662 career rushing yards -- which also includes 3,091 during his first three seasons with the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams (1993-95) -- will not only be keeping tabs on Pittsburgh's first-round draft pick, fellow running back Najee Harris, but also on the former teammate Ben Roethlisberger as many expect the quarterback to be approaching retirement.
While appearing at an 84 Lumber student trade skills event in Bridgeville on Tuesday (May 4), Bettis gave his endorsement of the newest Steelers running back, who has both "Jerome" and "Harris" in his name, sharing a link with "the Bus" and Franco Harris, the only player with more rushing yards as a Steeler than Bettis.
“When you see him on the football field, he’s the modern NFL power back,” Bettis said via KDKA.com. “He has the speed, he’s got the power, but he also has the hands to get out of the backfield. And make plays outside of that offensive line. That’s going to really help the Steelers in terms of the passing game but, most importantly, I think that their commitment to running the football is going to return. I think that because they have to understand: if you don’t run the football, you’re not going to win.”
Harris, who ranked as the No. 1 running back and No. 2 overall prospect for the 2017 national recruiting cycle, was the top running back prospect selected in Thursday's draft and was projected by ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. to be selected by Pittsburgh in his mock draft earlier this month.
The senior led all FBS running backs with 26 rushing touchdowns and ranked third nationally with 1,466 rushing yards, which led all SEC players.
The Steelers ranked 28th among all 32 NFL teams in rushing attempts (373) last season, as well as 20th (395) in 2019 -- even with Roethlisberger missing considerable time due to injury -- and 31st (345) in 2018.
Bettis, who also appeared on NFL Network's Good Morning Football Tuesday, acknowledged Pittsburgh addressing its need to improve its rushing attack, which has been a focal point throughout franchise history.
“With that pick, they realized, ‘We need to get back to running the football,’” Bettis said via TribLIVE. “It was a commitment that they made, and they further cemented with (Illinois center Kendrick Green) and the offseason acquisitions they made in the offensive line.”
Bettis also believes the addition of Harris will help his former teammate Roethlisberger as the veteran quarterback enters his 18th NFL season.
“Getting that running game in and being balanced offensively so that they are not asking Ben to throw the ball 40 times a game … If you are asking Ben to throw 40-50 times a game, this will probably be Ben’s last year and it probably won’t go well,” Bettis said. “But if they ask him to throw it 20-25 times a game, then you are going to see the success.”
Bettis also made a bold prediction Roethlisberger's NFL future, predicting the two-time Super Bowl champion will play an additional season after 2021, despite most expecting his retirement after the upcoming season.
“I believe you’ll see a second year. Not just this year. But possibly next year, with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm,” Bettis said.
Roethlisberger won his first of two Super Bowls alongside Bettis during his second NFL season.
Bettis, a Detroit native, appeared his final NFL game during Super Bowl XL at Ford Field and was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.
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