Parker gives Steelers pleasant problem at RB
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By Joe Bendel
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
At some point this season -- perhaps soon -- tailbacks Jerome Bettis, Duce Staley and Willie Parker
could be healthy at the same time.
Which begs the question: Who would be the starter in such a scenario?
Bettis likely is out of the equation, given his contentment with being a backup. That leaves Staley, who missed the opener this past Sunday while recuperating from Aug. 8 knee surgery; and Parker, who ran for 161 yards in a 34-7 victory against the Tennessee Titans.
Staley entered training camp as the clear-cut starter, but Parker arguably passed him after his performance two days ago at Heinz Field. Staley's status for the Houston game Sunday is not yet known.
Coach Bill Cowher said after the Tennessee game he sees no reason to "make a change" in the starting lineup for next week. Past that, Cowher said he'd take things "week to week."
Bettis isn't certain who the starter would be in the future -- nor would he speculate.
"I don't know, I couldn't tell you that," said Bettis, who missed the opener Sunday with a calf injury and isn't sure of his status for next week. "You would have thought it would be a logjam last year, but it didn't work out that way."
Bettis was referring to the fact Staley opened the season as the starter, but he injured his hamstring in Week 7 and gave way to Bettis for the remainder of the season.
"You just have to play it out and see what happens," he said. "It's hard to say what will happen and who's going to get the carries. That's something that's a good problem to have. I know I don't worry about that. I'm not losing sleep at all. As long as we're winning football games
, I think, ultimately, that's all that matters."
Parker claims he has no designs on being the starter this year, despite his performance Sunday that featured runs of 45, 25, 15, 14, and 11 yards, in addition to a screen pass that went for 48 yards. He averaged 7.3 yards per rush, while setting the record for most yards by a Steelers runner on opening day.
"I don't have the starting job," Parker said. "I know those guys deserve it right now, and I know that I am just helping the team out right now. It is not my decision when they come back.
"I don't deserve anything. I want to be a starter, but I am not going to say that I deserve anything. Jerome deserves it; he's a Hall of Famer. Duce deserves it. I am going to stay away from that call."
Parker still must prove he can play well on a consistent basis. The youthful Titans finished 27th in total defense last season, including 18th against the run, so it might not offer the best barometer.
Still, Parker showed an ability to break tackles, deliver blows for extra yardage and outrun defenders. It was a potent mix, one that gives the Steelers another threat in the backfield, regardless of who starts.
"When you're top two guys are on the sideline, there's going to be some nervousness," Bettis said. "So, for him to go out there and perform like he did, we know he can carry the load and we can get healthy."
Joe Bendel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (412) 320-7811.