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Old 12-22-2007, 07:27 AM   #1
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Default Tomlin: Steelers Won't Alter Game Plan

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07356/843784-66.stm

Tomlin: Steelers won't alter game plan

Saturday, December 22, 2007
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Najeh Davenport will try to fill the shoes of the injured Willie Parker.There will be no repeat of 1976, no drastic offensive changes, no panic among the coaches after the season-ending injury to running back Willie Parker.

Instead, the Steelers say they will merely plug Najeh Davenport into their offense and ask him to do the same thing Parker had done for the first 14 weeks of the National Football League season.

Whether he can do it as effectively and productively as Parker, the league's leading rusher, is another issue.

"When you lose a guy like Willie, it's more about how deep can you go in the playoffs," Davenport said. "He's our guy. He's our bread-winner. Not having him means everyone else is going to have to pick up their level and play another notch."

Davenport appears to be up to the task, at least, if his performance in the 41-24 victory Thursday night against the St. Louis Rams is a barometer. He rushed for 123 yards on 24 carries -- his most in two seasons with the Steelers -- and scored two touchdowns, one on a 12-yard catch over the middle. He also caught a 32-yard pass on a fake punt.

In less than a month, the Steelers have lost both members of their starting backfield (Dan Kreider, AC ligament), not exactly the way they wanted to end the regular season and head into the playoffs. The Steelers (10-5) still have not secured a spot in the post-season -- that could happen Sunday if the Tennessee Titans (8-6) or Cleveland Browns (9-5) lose. But they at least know they will have to begin their road to the Super Bowl without Parker, who was selected to his second Pro Bowl in a row after rushing for a league-best 1,318 yards.

Parker had surgery yesterday and had plates and screws inserted in his leg. He is expected to make a complete recovery and be ready to play by the 2008 season.

"With Willie down, it's going to take something away from us," said wide receiver Nate Washington, who has three touchdown catches in the past two games. "It's going to be tough. We don't need anything making it hard for us."

But after watching Davenport replace Parker and account for 167 yards of offense against the Rams, wide receiver Hines Ward said, "Najeh is going to be expected to do the same thing Willie's done. Our offense isn't designed around one guy. Najeh did a phenomenal job of stepping up and doing all the things Willie would have done."

Parker's injury comes four weeks after the Steelers lost Kreider for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament sustained in a Nov. 26 game in the mud and slop at Heinz Field.

It leaves them with three running backs on their 53-man roster -- Davenport, Carey Davis and Gary Russell -- and likely will force them to add another running back before their Dec. 30 game in Baltimore, perhaps even Verron Haynes, a former player and one of Parker's close friends.

The Steelers considered signing Haynes and brought him in for a workout a couple weeks ago when Davenport missed the Dec. 2 game against Cincinnati because of numbness in his foot.

Another option is to promote Justin Vincent, an undrafted rookie free agent from Louisiana State, from the practice squad.

"[Parker's] a great guy and you don't want that to happen," Haynes said yesterday from his home in Atlanta. "But that's the nature of this beast."

The timing of Parker's injury, coupled with his status as the league's leading rusher, make it one of the most debilitating setbacks in franchise history. It brings to mind the 1976 season when the Steelers lost both of their 1,000-yard rushers -- Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier -- in a first-round playoff game in Baltimore, forcing coach Chuck Noll to revamp the offense and use a one-back formation with Reggie Harrison for the AFC championship game in Oakland. The Steelers lost that game, 24-7.

The Steelers, though, insist Parker's loss will not change their offense.

"We'll run the same plays with Najeh and Carey and we'll get Gary Russell ready to go," said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. "You lose lot of your explosiveness [without Parker], but Najeh has been keeping fresh. And Gary has been getting a ton of reps at fullback and halfback."

Davenport received a game ball for his performance against the Rams, who had not allowed a 100-yard rusher in the previous 14 games. But he will be making only the third start of his six-year career against the Ravens and is a player with a history of injuries.

The Steelers can only hope it's as good as his first NFL start, when Davenport replaced Green Bay's Ahman Green and rushed for 178 yards on 19 carries against the Rams Nov. 29, 2004. At the time, it was the third-highest total in 21 years by a player making his first NFL start.

"I think you put more pressure on yourself, because, in this league, it's easy to point fingers when things go wrong," Davenport said. "So, I place it on myself to put the offense on my back and carry it downhill."
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Old 12-22-2007, 07:44 PM   #2
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Default Re: Tomlin: Steelers Won't Alter Game Plan

This reminds me of the post by a pretty respected and sharp guy who was addressing Najeh's continued role on the ST's. He blamed the coaches and called them stupid for leaving Davenport in on ST's after Parker went down.

This isn't Pop Warner. ST positions are highly specialized. You can't just pop guys in and out. This is the NFL. It's complicated.
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Old 12-23-2007, 06:32 AM   #3
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Default Re: Tomlin: Steelers Won't Alter Game Plan

They shouldn't change there game plans davenport will fill in nicely.
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