Thursday, August 23, 2007
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Nobody has asked Willie Parker what he thinks. And, as a third-year running back, maybe nobody will.
But he is a Pro Bowl performer, one of only two from last year's offense, and is the first Steelers back since Jerome Bettis to put together back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
What's more, only three other running backs in the National Football League -- LaDainian Tomlinson, Steven Jackson and Rudi Johnson -- had more carries last season than Parker, proof of the team's dependency on his talent. And his importance in the offense.
So when Parker said he prefers to run behind a fullback -- a fullback such as Dan Kreider -- perhaps someone with the Steelers should listen.
"I prefer to have a fullback," said Parker, who was third in the American Football Conference last season with 1,494 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. "You always want a lead blocker
and someone who takes it in there. And a fullback, they just go and take it in there and block somebody to clear a path. Dan Kreider is a good fullback."
As the Steelers prepare for their fourth preseason game Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, there still appears to be some question if Kreider, a five-year starter, will even make the 53-man roster because of a decreased emphasis on the fullback position in the Steelers' offense.
Kreider and veteran Verron Haynes are battling for what is likely the fifth and final running back spot on the team, behind Parker, Najeh Davenport, Carey Davis and rookie Gary Russell. But Haynes, who played very well in last week's preseason victory against the Washington Redskins, also can play special teams.
Parker said he was unaware that Kreider's job status would even be questioned and hopes that the 255-pound fullback continues to line up with him in the backfield.
"He's like an extra lineman that can run and can move side to side," Parker said. "He's a great blocker and he takes pride in what he does.
"It would be kind of disappointing [if he were cut]. It would be surprising. Sometimes you want to stay away from a lot of that, if they cut him. I don't want to talk about my man like that. He takes pride in what he does and I love what he does."
Kreider's job status has become an issue because new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians believes in spreading the field and using multiple receiver sets, even when running the ball.
Arians also likes to use formations with three tight ends, often shifting one of them into the backfield as a blocker. He said that will mean fewer snaps for the fullback.
But, Parker, who said he is usually paired with a fullback 80 percent of the time on running plays, conceded that's different than having a fullback leading the way.
"It's not the same," he said. "We got a lot of plays with the tight end as the extra blocker. I'm not saying something's wrong, but it's not the same."
Kreider is the only true fullback on the team, though Davis, a first-year free agent, was used there solely in the second preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.
Haynes, a six-year veteran, was drafted as a fullback in the fifth round but was shifted to halfback his rookie season and has not played fullback since, except in an emergency. He said he has not been used at fullback in training camp.
"It's not one of those things where we're not going to run the football," Haynes said, "I mean, we're still the Steelers. [Arians] runs the football just as much as anybody. He wants to run the football. A lot of people think we're going to be a pass-happy offense. Uh-uh. That's not the deal. He wants to run the football."
Only question is: With or without a fullback?