Tuesday, April 22, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Willie Parker leads the running backs through drills yesterday in the Steelers' first spring practice at the team's South Side facilities.
On the first offensive huddle of the first practice of the Steelers' new season, No. 39 lined up at tailback behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Willie Parker did nothing spectacular yesterday, unless you count the fact he was back on the field, running and cutting with the rest of his teammates.
"Right now I'm a little shaky," Parker said, "but I'm at full speed, cutting and all that stuff. If not 100 percent, I'm real close to it."
Parker led the NFL in rushing last season when, in the second-to-last game in St. Louis, the fibula in his right leg broke. Coach Mike Tomlin said they would run him until the wheels fell off, and one of them did.
The fear, of course, was that the "Fast" in Fast Willie Parker would diminish because of his injury. But a little more than a month ago, Parker ran a 4.4 for his trainers indoors. His coach, while planning to take it easy on Parker this spring, is encouraged with his progress.
"Willie has one speed," Tomlin said after conducting his first official spring workout. "That's what you love about him from a mentality standpoint, but we're not going to win games here April 21, so we're going to do the best we can to take care of him."
Tomlin added that, "I expect him to be 100 percent, no doubt."
Yesterday, Tomlin said his comment about running Parker until the wheels came off was made tongue-in-cheek. Nevertheless, Parker ran 320 times in 14 games plus one more carry in the 15th (for 1,316 yards) when his right foot stuck in the artificial surface in St. Louis ("That turf was not that great," Parker said.)
He carried 658 times the past two Pro Bowl seasons for 2,810 yards. He has topped 1,200 yards in each of his three seasons as a starter, but the Steelers have made it clear they would like to find a banger to ease some of his workload, either through the draft or in the person of someone such as Gary Russell.
"Do we need a stable of backs? Absolutely," Tomlin said. "If you look around this game there are a bunch of those kinds of backfields. We desire to be one of those and we think that we have some guys here right now that are capable of helping him carry the load."
Parker welcomes it as something that might extend his career.
"That's a great thing," Parker said after morning practice. "Last year I touched the ball a lot, a lot. To get somebody to split some things up, I think that would be a great thing. That would be something good for my career."
The draft is good and deep in running backs and the Steelers likely can still get a good one in the third or fourth round.
"Whatever helps this team out, I think that would be the best thing," Parker said, "because last year when I went down, we were short on backs. We need somebody else in here. If they bring somebody else in here, I'm all for it."
Good to see FWP getting back into the swing of thing, and also that Tomlin seems to be placing a pretty high priority on improving the backfield with Willie this year. Parker seems to have a good attitude about it and knows he can't keep taking that many reps week in and week out and expect to survive for as long as he wants too.