After watching Willie Parker rush for 223 yards Thursday night, Steelers coach Bill Cowher called him one of the top running backs in the NFL.
Such a billing is about as remarkable as Parker was in shredding the Browns defense, considering the third-year pro had rather modest goals when he first reached the NFL.
"I thought I'd need to make my niche somewhere else -- special teams or something like that," said Parker, who signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2004. "But, one day, I was like, 'No, I'm going to keep going at it, and I'm going to keep going hard at running back.' "
Parker, who's rushed for 1,199 yards this season, isn't a prototypical Steelers running back. And all he has to do is listen to callers on local sports talk radio if he wants to be reminded of that.
The player that supposedly isn't big enough to be an every-down back and not powerful enough to consistently run between the tackles is nevertheless on track to rush for 1,475 yards, which would rank third on the Steelers' all-time single-season list.
Parker, assuming he doesn't get hurt, should gain more yards in 2006 than Franco Harris ever did in a season with the Steelers. And yet he knows questions about him will persist.
The 5-foot-10, 209-pounder is small by NFL running back standards, though his speed often makes up for his lack of size.
The chorus of doubters had grown increasingly louder during a three-game stretch in which Parker rushed for just 129 yards, including 22 in the Steelers' 27-0 loss at Baltimore.
Cowher may be one of his biggest supporters, but even he didn't foresee the kind of game Parker had against the Browns.
"I looked at the weather conditions and didn't think it would be a good night for Willie Parker," Cowher said. "How about that thinking going in? We were talking about (how) it might be a night for Najeh Davenport because you can't cut and do those things."