Tomlin: Parker has chance to play on third down

July 30th, 2007 by Neal Coolong

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin noted Sunday that RB Willie Parker could see more third-down responsibilities this season, as reported by Post-Gazette writer Gerry Dulac. Parker seems to be comfortable in this camp, perhaps moreso than he has been the last two seasons. Thatís to be expected, considering he has rushed for over 1,000 yards each of the last two years. But the issue becomes durability. Parker touched the ball 337 times last season - fourth-highest in the AFC, and gained the third-highest yard total. Heís shown strong pass-catching ability, and is used often in such a fashion, just not on third downs.

As reported by Dulac:
When asked if Parker has a chance to play on third down, Tomlin said, ďYes.Ē
This creates a bit of a quandary as far as the RBs go, considering the Steelers brought in Kevan Barlow to compete with veteran Verron Haynes for the third-down back position. The general consensus has Najeh Davenport as Parkerís main backup.

Is Tomlinís admittance that Parker could see third-down duties an indication that Barlow and/or Haynes arenít up to par? Perhaps. Barlow hasnít seen much time lately, missing most of last season with the Jets due to injury. Haynes has gone through three season-ending knee surgeries in years. Itís clear the Steelers wonít keep both of them, but itís more of an issue with how much either would be used, now.

The early word this off-season was how Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians would like to throw the ball more this season - whether they flat-out said it or not is irrelevant. Their personnel decisions in recent years indicate they have the skill position players under bigger contracts to want to pass. In Dulacís notebook, he suggests Parker has ramped up his blocking ability, thus, would provide the main characteristic needed from a third-down back. If Roethlisberger will be out of the no-huddle like he suggests he will be in several reports this off-season, it makes sense to think that a 4-WR set with Parker as the lone-back and Roethlisberger out of the gun would be a nice third-down package to have.