Training Camp: Willie Parker quick on his feet handling the media, too

Someone made the mistake yesterday of calling Willie Parker the "old guy" to his face. Parker, 28, let it go without comment.

Someone else made the mistake of asking Parker what it might be like this season to share time in the Steelers' backfield with two other halfbacks. Parker let that pass by merely saying: "You have to ask the coach about that. That's not for me to decide. The only thing I can do is just come out every day and bring what I bring to the table."

What Parker brings to the table, for those who might forget, is the fourth-most rushing yards in the NFL over the past four years and one of the best Steelers backs ever. Yes, the Steelers drafted Rashard Mendenhall in the first round last year; yes, Parker had some injury issues; and, yes, Mewelde Moore has shown he can play on third downs and fill in capably.

But halfback remains Willie Parker's job, and for good reason. Not only does he have two Super Bowl rings as their starting halfback, he helped put rings on his teammates fingers with that breathtaking, record 75-yard touchdown run against Seattle.

And he is showing early in training camp, as he did in the spring, that, at 28, he has plenty left in the tank.

"I got my speed back," said Fast Willie, "and you know that's always a plus."

Parker's resume should be enough to prevent anyone from asking him about a three-way arrangement in the backfield. It wasn't until later that he thought about that question.

"You know how it is, y'all get paid to ask the questions, and it's part of our job to answer them," Parker said. "No disrespect, I just sit and have to take it, and when the game starts, I'll have to show y'all what I got."

Despite his production, he feels he has to prove himself again because the team drafted Mendenhall, because he missed five games last season with a knee injury, because, well, because he was never drafted.

"I feel if I was drafted, nobody would have asked me that question about the three-back system," Parker said. "Maybe I'm wrong, but that's how I feel. I feel since I'm undrafted, each and every year I have to prove myself. I'm out to prove myself again."

Parker responded to the broken fibula that ended his 2007 season and the drafting of Mendenhall last year by rushing for 243 yards in the first two games of '08. In the third game, the MCL in his left knee was sprained. He missed a total of five games and good portions of two others, yet he also topped 100 yards three more times, including 146 against San Diego in the first playoff game.

His 791 yards rushing gave him 4,803 in his four seasons as a starter, making him one of only a handful of runners to reach such a level. Parker topped 1,200 yards in each of the seasons before last, something no other Steeler has ever done. He is third on the Steelers' career rushing list with 4,989 yards, has the team record with 223 yards in a game and also holds No. 3 with 213. His three 1,000-yard seasons rank No. 3, 6 and 8 in club history.

What more must this player do to show that, to borrow an old phrase from an old Steelers quarterback, he's the man, write it down?

Yet even the Steelers have sent out signals by their silence that perhaps there is no future here for Parker. He's heading into the last year of his contract, and there are no discussions to extend it. Perhaps they, too, forget what Parker has done. Perhaps, they are waiting to see what their first-round draft pick will do in training camp.

As Parker pointed out yesterday, he is no fool, he knows what is going on.

"That's neither here nor there," he said of the lack of talks to extend his contract. "I'm here trying to get right this season. I have to bounce back from last season and see where it goes from there.

"We drafted a No. 1 draft pick last year, so we have to see how it plays out."

They better hope it plays out better than last year for Mendenhall. His rookie season ended early in the fourth game when a hit from Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis fractured his shoulder.

Some teammates then grumbled when Mendenhall rarely came around the club or the locker room -- except for required visits to the trainers and for rehab --until the playoffs.

The loss of Mendenhall, the loss of Parker and a new offensive line led to a No. 23 ranking in the NFL for the Steelers' ground game, their second lowest since they joined the AFC in 1970.

Parker thinks that will be fixed because, he says, the line is better, and because of a healthy Mendenhall and, yes, because Fast Willie Parker is back.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at . Steelers updates, your comments and more visit Blog 'n' Gold First Published August 4, 2009 4:00 AM


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