PITTSBURGH - It was a light, breezy day and Willie Parker was beaming.
Practice had just ended and he was heading for the showers. The rest of a beautiful day awaited him ... and then a reporter approached with the wrong topic.
Or, more specifically: How is Parker hoping to cut down on his five fumbles from last season.
It was five, wasn't it?
"It was five," said the suddenly subdued Parker.
Are you working on it at all?
"No," Parker said. "It's just one more than I had the year before. The year before I fumbled four times and I fumbled five times last year. A running back don't like to fumble, but it is what it is. I just can't get too comfortable holding that pill. I've got to treat every down like it's my first time touching the ball."
Former running backs coach Dick Hoak took a speak-no-evil approach to fumbling. He thought that if a coach harped on it enough, the running back would focus more on ball security than finding daylight. That was Hoak's approach.
"Yeah, you don't talk about fumbling," Parker said. "I don't really talk about it like that. I don't even like to hear that word actually."
But someone had to bring it up. And Parker may as well get it out of the way right now.
What's new running backs coach Kirby Wilson's approach?
"Oh, actually we do put an emphasis on it," Parker said. "We do a lot of ball drills and holding the ball up, so we do a little more than what we did last year. He emphasizes holding the ball, and careless ball handling, and all that stuff. He teaches keeping the ball in one hand and, like, if you go outside, if you go left, put it in your left hand. Last year, I just put it in whatever hand I felt comfortable with. That's what caused a lot of my fumbles."
Now, see, that wasn't so bad. Here's a couple easy ones, Willie: How do you feel physically? What's your weight?
"I'm not even at my playing weight right now," he said. "I'm going to get up to my playing weight. Right now I'm just relaxing and chilling. I'm going to get up to my playing weight."
Parker played at 209 last year, and that's the same weight he wants to hit this season. But he might never get there if 340-pound Casey Hampton continues covering him on pass plays, as he did on one memorable play this week.
"Hamp's an athlete, but I don't think you should put him on me in the flat," Parker said, his smile back, his day light and breezy again.
Was Parker surprised to see the nose tackle peel off the line to cover him?
"I really didn't even look at him," Parker said. "I just wondered what Coach (Dick) LeBeau's doing on this play."
NOTES: Troy Polamalu missed the last segment of Wednesday's practice and all of Thursday's practice with a minor calf injury. ... Outside linebackers Clark Haggans and James Harrison missed Thursday's practice, leaving their jobs to Arnold Harrison and rookie LaMarr Woodley. First-round pick Lawrence Timmons remains sidelined with a groin injury. ... Willie Colon was back at center after giving way to Sean Mahan on Tuesday. Colon worked as the first-team center three of the four days this week. ... Charlie Batch yesterday presented PIAA championship rings to the Schenley basketball team. Batch helped to pay for the rings as well.