Pro Bowl running back Willie Parker has his fifth gear back and will play for the first time Saturday night when the Steelers face the Washington Redskins in a preseason game in Landover, Md.
Parker missed 10 days of practice and did not play in the first two preseason games because of a strained muscle in the back of his left knee. He said last week he wanted to play against the Redskins but didn't think the coaching staff would use him.
But coach Mike Tomlin said yesterday Parker will play with the rest of the starters, who are expected to get about 20 snaps against the Redskins.
"I think I'm ready now," Parker said after going through a full afternoon practice. "I'm 100 percent. It's the other things I need to work on, like the plays. I'm trying to get that back in my memory bank."
Parker's injury prevented him from accelerating.
"Right now, he looks pretty good," Tomlin said. "He tells us he has that fifth gear back. You know how those high-performance athletes are. He's feeling like he's got the fifth."
Big Ben OK
The Steelers received a brief scare near the end of their afternoon practice when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger injured his throwing hand on a helmet.
But Roethlisberger was pronounced fine after an examination by team doctors in the locker room and is scheduled to practice today.
The injury occurred when he followed through on a pass and hit his right hand on a helmet during 11-on-11 drills.
Safety Anthony Smith sustained an abdominal-related injury during practice and sat out the rest of the afternoon session.
Tomlin said he didn't think the injury was serious, but he said it was too soon to speculate. Asked if Smith would miss the game against the Redskins, Tomlin said, "I would hope that he wouldn't, but I'm not a doctor."
Left tackle Marvel Smith (back), center Chukky Okobi (ribs) and nose tackle Chris Hoke (knee) did not practice. Tight end Jerame Tuman (back) returned to practice.
Outside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (groin), the team's No. 1 pick, continued to do light workouts in uniform, but has not participated in any contact drills.
"Probably not as quickly as he or I would like," Tomlin said, when asked when Timmons will resume full practice, "But we're dealing with it."
Wide receiver Nate Washington made a nice leaping catch in the end zone of a pass by No. 3 quarterback Brian St. Pierre.
Outside linebacker James Harrison and running back Verron Haynes staged the best battle in the 1-on-1 blocking drill pitting running backs against linebackers. Harrison twice bowled over Haynes in a simulated blitz, but Haynes got his revenge when he stuffed Harrison another time.
Today's 2:55 p.m. practice is the next-to-last session that is open to the public before camp ends Friday morning.Peter Diana, Post-Gazette photos
Willie Parker reaches out to fans before workouts this afternoon at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. Parker will play in his first preseason game Saturday against the Redskins.
Click photo for larger image.
Click photo for larger image.