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Old 05-14-2006, 08:58 PM   #1
Steelhorse
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Default Business As Usual: Run

Steelers' Parker wasn't a one-run wonder

By ALAN ROBINSON, AP Sports Writer
May 14, 2006

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- To Willie Parker, it must seem as though some people are convinced that his first season as an NFL starting running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers began and ended with his record 75-yard touchdown run in the Super Bowl.

"I've signed so many 75-yard autograph inscriptions, my hand's about to fall off," Parker said at the Steelers' weekend minicamp. "They always want you to sign 'Longest run in Super Bowl history' and all that."'


Not that Parker minds the distraction -- after all, he hardly expected to be in this role, as a 1,000-yard rusher on a Super Bowl championship team, when he came into the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent two years ago.

Parker's touchdown run early in the third quarter of the Steelers' 21-10 victory over Seattle in the Super Bowl was one of the biggest plays in team history, but it was hardly his only play of the season. Parker, a backup most of his college career at North Carolina, ran for 1,202 yards last season, then added 225 yards in four playoff games.

But on a team where Jerome Bettis was the primary running back for most of his 10 years in Pittsburgh, in addition to being a visible leader and one of the signature faces in franchise history, Parker's excellent season probably didn't get the attention it might have attracted if he played for another team.

Even though Parker outgained Bettis by more than 800 yards, Bettis' drive for his first Super Bowl title in what proved to be the final season for the No. 5 rusher in NFL history was a headline story all season. Most of the national attention Parker received came after his Super Bowl run.

"That's OK," Parker said. "I'm still a young guy, I'm still learning, I'm still in the playbook every day, trying to get more knowledge of the offense."

What, he doesn't know all the playbook yet?

"No, I really know the offense," Parker said. "I'm just trying to gain a little more knowledge of it."

Now that Bettis has retired, Parker expects to share time with Duce Staley, the former Eagles 1,000-yard rusher who signed with Pittsburgh before the 2004 season. Staley averaged more than 100 yards per game for seven weeks, until an injury sidelined him for most of the rest of the season and allowed Bettis to regain his job.

With Bettis and Staley hurt during training camp last summer, Parker took advantage by rushing for 272 yards in his first two regular-season games. He went on to have five 100-yard games and will go into this training game as the starter.

Whether Staley's role will expand once the season goes on, Parker has no idea. He said he doesn't intend to lobby for more playing time or more carries than the 255 he got last season, just as he hadn't intended to say anything if the Steelers drafted a running back in the first round last month.

After rumors that the Steelers were interested in Southern Cal running back LenDale White, the team traded up in the first round and took Ohio State star Santonio Holmes, the first wide receiver chosen.

"That's not my call," Parker said when asked whether he was worried that the Steelers might take a back. "Whatever the coach decides, that's what we're going to do."

Coach Bill Cowher didn't take long to say what he intends to do, promising that the Steelers will keep running the ball and running it a lot, even as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Hines Ward lobby to open up the passing game more.

"We're not going to alter our approach to the game," Cowher said. "You look at the end of the season and say you're 60 percent running the ball, then we're probably winning football games. So I think we have the ability to do whatever it takes, and we will continue to do that. If we get a lead, we will continue to take the air out of the ball."
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