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83-Steelers-43
12-13-2006, 11:31 PM
Parker tries to make himself at home
Thursday, December 14, 2006

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Willie Parker looks forward to playing on the road Sunday, even though it practically has swallowed him and the Steelers' running game this year.

It has been more brick wall than yellow brick road for the Steelers and their ground game this season.

Parker has averaged just 45.8 yards on the road this season compared to 132 at home, and while Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium is not Heinz Field, Parker could consider it home.

A native of Clinton, N.C., Parker played at the University of North Carolina, although it's well documented that his coaches there never awarded him the starting job at halfback. He will make his first pro regular-season start in his home state Sunday.

"It's going to be great," Parker said yesterday. "North Carolina is where a lot of my family and old teammates like Julius Peppers are. It's coming home for me. I had to get a lot of tickets. All my family is going to be around. It's one of those games that you love to play."

One thing Parker and guard Alan Faneca agreed on is the need for another halfback to complement him next season, preferably a bulldozer who can ram into a pile and move it. He would not have to weigh as much as Jerome Bettis, but must have that kind of running style.

It has been a topic of discussion for much of the season as Parker carried 72.7 percent of the time with 264 runs.

"I think that would be great, another back, a 1-2 punch," Parker said. "I think that would be great. And the way we run the ball, and the way we want to run the ball, I think that would be a great decision ...

"Me and Jerome, we did a phenomenal job last year, and I thought that's how we were going to be this year, but we didn't go that way."

It didn't go that way because Duce Staley, cut last week, was supposed to be that man but was judged not capable by the end of training camp and was inactive for 11 of his 12 games.

"We've always had that," Faneca said of a second back used to take some of the load off the starter. "It's been awhile since we've just leaned on Jerome.

"You always like to have that change of pace, that guy, late in the fourth quarter. In situations like that, where if you're up, you just need a guy to run over somebody and get those tough 2. Even when they have 10 people in the box, it's always nice to have."

Faneca and Parker said it is possible 255-pound Najeh Davenport, signed after the first game of the season after Green Bay released him, could fill that role next season.

No one supplied a reasonable theory why there is such a differential between home and road games on the ground for the Steelers, who have a 1-5 record as a visitor. Parker has 275 yards in six road games -- he had nearly that in his last home game when he rushed for a team-record 223 against Cleveland. It was his second 200-yard game in his past three games at home, where he has run for 924 of his 1,199 yards this season.

"You'd think it would be the exact opposite," Faneca said, "because you're always trying to get the running game going, quiet the crowd, stay out of third-and-long on the road. You'd think if it was anything, it would lean the other way."

Parker and tackle Max Starks mentioned the noise as a possible factor -- that the Steelers' offense is at a disadvantage because the players cannot hear the snap count as well in the din of an opposing stadium. That would seem a plausible explanation except that last season, three of Parker's five 100-yard games came on the road.

Even with the road woes, Parker's performance has been exceptional in this inconsistent season for the Steelers. He is the first back in their history to have two 200-yard games in his career and, if he maintains his pace, he could produce the third-best rushing season for them.

"I think everybody doubted him carrying the load, and he's carried the load all year and he's been there all year," Faneca said.

Bettis has not been and, while Parker misses his tutor, he said not relying on him this season has helped him grow.

"Last year, I had somebody helping me every game, every step of the way," Parker said. "This year, I kind of graduated and kind of moved forward, and I've been on an island. I had to ask myself, 'Am I doing things right?' I didn't go to Jerome this year for his help and his insight.

"It was real important for me just to get away from him a little bit and do things on my own to show people I can make decisions on my own."

He dedicated the game against Cleveland Thursday night to Johnnie Bettis, Jerome's father who died suddenly of a heart attack and was buried three days before the game. Parker then went out and broke the Steelers' rushing record, doing it up the middle Bettis-like on many occasions.

"I think people underestimate sometimes how good a runner he is between the tackles," coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said.

Said Parker, "I had to answer a lot of questions."

He can answer one more Sunday on the road at home in North Carolina.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06348/746059-66.stm

Stlrs4Life
12-14-2006, 08:34 PM
I hope for another good day for Fast Willie!

Preacher
12-14-2006, 10:36 PM
"You'd think it would be the exact opposite," Faneca said, "because you're always trying to get the running game going, quiet the crowd, stay out of third-and-long on the road. You'd think if it was anything, it would lean the other way."

Maybe that is the problem... When it becomes to easy to guess what is being done... it can be stopped.