Tuesday, October 09, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Is it the Heinz Field Leap ... or maybe Heinz Field Hop?
Willie Parker came away unimpressed with Najeh Davenport's performance Sunday. Oh, he had nothing but good things to say about Davenport's two touchdown runs, his 45-yard dash around left end, his 58 yards on seven carries, his blocking on third downs and his four receptions for 38 yards.
But those leaps into the South and North end zone stands? Not on your life.
Davenport, who broke into the NFL with the Lambeau Leap as a running back with the Green Bay Packers, calls it the Heinz Field Hop, said he has already patented it and hopes it becomes a part of the Steelers' home routine from now on.
Not if Parker has anything to do with it.
"It's the Heinz Field Leap, Hop, something?" a bemused Parker said. "I'm like, 'Go back to Green Bay with that, boy.' I won't do that. I'll be too tired to jump up in the stands and all that."
If Davenport wants to continue it, he should at least get more alliteration into it. If it's the Lambeau Leap and not the Lambeau Field Leap, then it should be the Heinz Hop.
"You just have to lower the railings a little bit so the rest of these guys can get up in the stands," Davenport explained, "so Willie can get up in there. His vert isn't really the best."
When your horizontal is as good as Parker's, there's really no need for a vertical. Parker returned to the top of the NFL rushing leaders with 507 yards in five games, but there's one thing in which he does not lead his own team -- touchdown runs. He has one and the other three belong to Davenport.
The Steelers have been looking for another Bus since Jerome Bettis retired after the 2005 season and while there will never be another Bus, they may have discovered a suitable Pickup Truck in Davenport.
He is two inches taller than Bettis at 6 feet 1 and he is listed about 10 pounds lighter at 247. He's not the type of insider runner as was Bettis nor does he deliver Bus-like blows or have his power, but he has deceptive speed and quickness and he's versatile.
Davenport has settled in as the team's primary third-down back, a tribute to his awareness and blocking and his ability to catch a pass.
His 45-yard dash around left end to the Seahawks' 20 came on second-and-18 after Ben Roethlisberger was sacked. He shook off one tackler and a block by Nate Washington helped spring him. That run ignited the drive that ended with Roethlisberger's 13-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller for a 7-0 lead in the second quarter.
"That's something we expected from him, really," left tackle Marvel Smith said. "He's a big back but he has some speed too. I'm sure he caught some people by surprise the way he ran the ball but that's something we all know -- when he's open he runs the ball hard."
That Davenport joined the Steelers was a matter of good fortune and a good eye by their scouts. The Packers released their veteran back Sept. 2, 2006, on the final cut, 11 months after he broke an ankle in a game.
The entire NFL had a chance to sign him and no one did, perhaps because any vested veteran on a team's roster the first game of the season is liable for his entire salary for that season no matter what.
The Steelers were among those teams that did not sign Davenport before their first game. Yet the Steelers also had an edge over 30 of the other 32 NFL teams when it came to Davenport last year; they opened the season on Thursday, three days before anyone else. They beat Miami Sept. 7, 2006, and signed Davenport the next day.
He finished second to Parker last season with 221 yards on 60 carries and caught 15 passes for 193 yards. He scored twice.
After five games this season, he has scored three times -- his other touchdown was a 39-yard run against San Francisco, which gives him two runs this season that are longer than Parker's longest of 25. Davenport has almost equaled last season's rushing total with 209 yards, and he has caught seven passes for 66 yards.
Some Pickup Truck, or even trick, by the Steelers.
"Anytime Najeh steps in the game, nothing changes in our mind," guard Alan Faneca said. "He's a hell of a back and not every team has two guys like that who are interchangeable.
"You don't want anything to happen to Willie, but if anything did, Najeh would step right in and do a great job."
Step right in and Hop right up.