View Full Version : Cook: Fast Willie is quickly becoming indispensable for Steelers

08-26-2006, 08:16 AM
Cook: Fast Willie is quickly becoming indispensable for Steelers
Saturday, August 26, 2006

By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PHILADELPHIA -- Bill Cowher has cast his vote for the Steelers' most important player and the choice might surprise you.

Remember, Ben Roethlisberger doesn't count.

Willie Parker.

Then again, if you watched Fast Willie go 75 yards off right tackle in Super Bowl XL and saw Duce Staley and Verron Haynes struggle to get anything going in the running game in the 16-7 exhibition loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last night, you probably aren't all that shocked.

It's funny, the biggest worry coming into the preseason was Roethlisberger's status after his horrific motorcycle accident June 12. That's no longer an issue. It's clear Big Ben is just fine. Maybe he didn't have his best game against the Eagles in his two series of work. He threw one pass too high for Cedrick Wilson, one pass behind Heath Miller and another pass right to Eagles safety Brian Dawkins for an interception. He also wasted a timeout and took a delay-of-game penalty. But he's far down the list -- all the way at the bottom, actually -- of Cowher's worries. He's going to have a terrific year.

"I like where's he at," Cowher said. "I don't have to see much more."

If the star treatment Parker received last night is an indication, depth at running back might be the No. 1 concern, even more worrisome than Hines Ward's lingering hamstring injury.

It's clear Cowher believes he has to do all he can to keep Parker from getting hurt before the real games start, that he thinks the Steelers would have a hard time winning without him. Parker played just one series against the Eagles. Roethlisberger and center Jeff Hartings played two. The rest of the starters played the first half.

Don't be surprised if Parker doesn't play at all in the final exhibition game against Carolina Thursday night.

The star treatment is legit. It's not just that 75-yard touchdown run against Seattle in the Super Bowl or the 1,202 regular-season yards Parker gained last year. He's had a fine training camp and exhibition season, so good that Cowher announced earlier this week that he would stay on the field in short-yardage situations, a job held by Jerome Bettis last season and one the team hoped Staley would win this summer.

Parker justified that faith with another strong performance last night. He had runs of 2, 4 and 7 yards and caught passes for 9, 11 and minus-2 yards. Don't be fooled by those modest numbers. They would have been drastically better if Parker hadn't slipped so much on the slick Lincoln Financial Field.

"He came real close to breaking a couple of big plays tonight," Cowher said.

The offense certainly looked different with Parker than it did with Staley or Haynes, who alternated series in the first half and into the third quarter after Parker left.

"It's not just the backs," Cowher said. "That's an easy way to say it. The running game is about everything. It just hasn't come together as quickly as I would have liked."

The Steelers' normally superb offensive line didn't exactly distinguish itself on this night. There wasn't a lot of running room.

But Staley and Haynes didn't make much room for themselves, either.

Staley had six carries for 18 yards behind the first line in the first half and finished with 11 carries for 21 yards, a lousy 1.9 yards-per-carry average. He couldn't convert a fourth-and-1 play in the third quarter. Haynes had just one carry for 1 yard in the first half -- in fairness, it's hard to judge that -- and gained 14 yards on his four second-half carries.

Sure, it's only the exhibition season. Staley and Haynes are proven veterans. Maybe they'll turn it up once the regular season starts. Steelers coaches are convinced Haynes will do just fine in his role again as the third-down back. They're also hopeful Staley will shake off the rust from two injury-plagued seasons and be the premier back he was in the first half of the 2004 season.

Just in case one or the other doesn't happen, though, Parker had better stay healthy.

Despite the depth problems, the Steelers' running game actually is far ahead of where it was a year ago. Staley and Bettis were hurt at this point and unable to start the regular season. Parker still was largely unproven.

That's why Cowher gave Parker the star treatment in the final exhibition game, not playing him at Carolina even though it was a homecoming to his native North Carolina. Cowher had to make sure he had a starting running back to line up against Tennessee in the opener. Wouldn't you know it that Parker torched the Titans for 161 yards and a touchdown in a 34-7 win.

That was the first indication that Fast Willie was the real deal.

The run in Super Bowl XL merely was one more confirmation.

Now, Parker gets the star treatment for reasons that go beyond the concerns about Staley and Haynes.

He gets it because he's a star.


08-26-2006, 08:27 AM
If I had to choose, I'd keep Verron over Duce.

08-26-2006, 02:33 PM
Park Parker at Fort Knox until Sept. 7th. and give him a few pitbulls to race.

08-26-2006, 02:58 PM
lol that is why i loved those screens to him so much. I like when he is in open field like that and has a chance to make something happen with his speed and his ability to make people miss. Bettis was fun to watch people get run over, but Willie is the opposite and something we will definately need this year.