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Old 12-14-2006, 12:36 AM   #1
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Default Parker carving own niche

Parker carving own niche

By Scott Brown
Thursday, December 14, 2006

Willie Parker has shown this season why he is worthy of serious Pro Bowl consideration.

The third-year running back said Wednesday he also has proven something to himself while rushing for nearly 1,200 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns: that he can drive even though Jerome Bettis is not backing him up and providing guidance.

"It was real important for me just to get away from him a little bit," Parker said, "to show people I can make it on my own."

Not that Parker isn't grateful for what Bettis did for him while the two were with the Steelers.

Bettis helped the undrafted free agent out of North Carolina go from raw talent to refined product even though it meant losing his starting job to Parker last season.

This season, Parker has joined Bettis and Franco Harris as the only backs in Steelers' history to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons.

Of Bettis, Parker said, "I miss him dearly."

He added that he dedicated the 223-yard rushing performance he had last Thursday against the Browns to Bettis, who recently lost his father.

Parker said he simply wanted to do for Bettis what Bettis had done for him so many times: lift him up.

"Last year, I had somebody helping me every step of the way," Parker said. "This year, I kind of graduated, I moved forward, so I had to ask myself, 'Am I doing things right?' "

His mentor would probably answer in the affirmative.

Parker's teammates certainly do.

"I'm a huge Willie Parker fan," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "Any running back who's gotten over 1,000 yards here, everybody praised and loved him, but it seems like people still doubt that he can be a legitimate running back. Willie's had a phenomenal year."

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