The stage is set for Willie Parker and Verron Haynes, a couple of backup Steelers running backs looking to make an impact in the absence of the injured Duce Staley.
Staley underwent arthroscopic surgery Monday for a torn lateral meniscus, which will keep him out for at least a month. Veteran Jerome Bettis moved into Staley's starting role, while Parker and Haynes moved up the depth chart.
The question is, Who's No. 2 while Duce is out?
"I keep away from all of that," Parker said. "You'd have to go to www.steelers.com
to find that out."
No such help there, but the answer will come on the practice field and in exhibition games over the next month. The Steelers open the exhibition season at home Monday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"It's an opportunity of a lifetime," Parker said. "And I have to take advantage of it."
The way Parker sees it, if he impresses the coaching staff with Staley on the shelf, he'll gain a more prominent role in the offense, which should lead to more carries, more yards and more touchdowns. He had 186 yards on 32 attempts as a rookie in '04. He did not score a touchdown.
"Hopefully, I'll get a chance to show everybody what I can do," said Parker, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds and goes by the nickname, Fast Willie. "This situation should get me on the field longer."
Parker, 5-foot-10, 209 pounds, displayed his speed in the team's goal-line drill last Saturday, bursting around left end and sprinting untouched into the end zone from five yards out. He said that run showcased some, not all, of his abilities.
"I can go inside as well, any good back has to be able to run between the tackles," he said. "People see me as an outside runner only, but that's just because I'm able to take it outside. But I'm not afraid to go inside, either."
Coach Bill Cowher has been impressed with Parker throughout camp and has mentioned him on several occasions. He said he plans to use the North Carolina grad, along with Haynes and rookie Noah Herron, more prominently in coming weeks.
"We're going to go with those guys," Cowher said. "There's no set plan at this point. I feel good about the depth that we have there."
Haynes, 5-9, 222, ran for 272 yards on 55 carries last season, but the third-down back has struggled with injuries in his first three NFL seasons, which has raised questions about his durability. He broke his leg as a rookie, had knee surgery in '03 and was hampered by a knee injury late last season.
"I'm fine, absolutely," Haynes said of his health. "I see this right now as an opportunity to get on the field and showcase what I can do. And I think we have a lot of great backs who can get the job done."
In some ways, Haynes has been limited in showcasing his skills. He's been used almost exclusively in third-down situations - which is not surprising, given he was a backup last season to Staley and Bettis - yet he might have a chance to flourish while Staley is out.
In coming weeks, perhaps he'll display the acceleration that helped him combine for 95 total yards against the Eagles last season, or the 61 he ran for against the Ravens on only eight carries.
"I think the best is yet to be seen of Verron Haynes," he said.