Steelers Notebook: Parker adjusts to return of healthy Mendenhall
August 21, 2009 4:00 AM
Troy Polamalu gets "help" with stretching from teammate Ryan Clark yesterday at training camp.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Halfbacks Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall will suit up for a football game together for the first time in 11 months, and the questions have not stopped this summer regarding their roles in the Steelers' backfield.
How will they be used and how many carries will or should each get in a game? Yesterday, Parker sounded as if he were weary of providing any answers.
"It is what it is, man," Parker said. "We're going to do it, we're going to do it, so just leave it at that."
Asked if he needed 20 carries to get into a game's flow, Parker said again, "It is what it is, leave it at that."
He did warm up to the subject when asked about the difference between Mendenhall's rookie and second season.
"He's more comfortable," Parker said. "He's more patient this year. This time from last year, you can tell a big difference. He has something on his mind this year. He's definitely working very hard. I see him in the weight room every day, so he's ready for the season."
Parker did not play in the first exhibition game Aug. 13 because of back spasms. The last time he and Mendenhall dressed together for a game came Sept. 21 in Philadelphia. Parker's knee was injured that day and he would miss the next four games.
Mendenhall, the only ball carrier drafted by the Steelers in the first round in the past 20 years, started the following game Sept. 29 against Baltimore and was knocked out for the season with a fractured shoulder.
Parker has been the team's starting halfback since 2005; his streak of rushing for more than 1,200 yards a season ended because of his injuries in 2008. He is in the final year of his contract.
Third-down back battle
Halfback Mewelde Moore tied for fourth on the team with 40 receptions last season after he became the third-down back after Parker's knee injury.
Parker would like that job back.
"That was my main focus in the offseason, just work on my hands and give me some plays in the open field one on one vs. a linebacker or one on one vs. a cornerback. That's what I wanted to do and that's what we're planning to do this season."
Parker caught only three passes last season, by far his lowest total since he became a starter in 2005.
"I don't know," Parker answered. "I mean, I guess bad quarterback-running back connection, I don't know."
He often has told his coaches not to forget about him when they were considering short-yardage backs, but he has not been used in a goal-line situation in either of those two live drills in camp.
Who might be in there tomorrow night against the Redskins if the situation arises?
"I'm pretty sure all the running backs want to be in there," Parker said. "It's whoever coach wants. I don't plan on being down at the goal line; I plan on taking it to the house."
The Colbert Connection
Thirty years ago, the Pirates had We Are Family. Saint Vincent College experienced its own version in football the past week, what the school calls "Football -- It's All in the Family."
The Steelers went through training camp on campus under the supervision of Kevin Colbert, their director of football operations. Several of Colbert's kin are coaching the Saint Vincent Bearcats on other fields at the placid Division III college.
Bob Colbert is Saint Vincent's head coach and Bernie Colbert is the defensive coordinator. They are Kevin's brothers. Brett Colbert, Bob Colbert's son, coaches the receivers.
It has been that way since Saint Vincent reinstituted football in 2007.
"It's kind of unique," said Kevin Colbert, the youngest of five brothers. "We're all in football and all working at the same time on the same campus."
The Steelers and Bearcats practice at different times on a campus that boasts six practice fields if the Chuck Noll Field, on which the Steelers practice, is counted. One field was converted this year into FieldTurf.
Bob Colbert says he loves having the Steelers on campus, although at times he cringes when the pro offensive and defensive linemen dig in against each other on the same area of what is the Bearcats' grass playing field. It does not take long for those big men to kill the grass.
"It's neat because we can go up and watch them practicing and they can come and watch us," Kevin said.
Longing for Saint Vincent
Coach Mike Tomlin sounded the only note of sadness as training camp ended at Saint Vincent.
"I wouldn't mind being the Latrobe Steelers; we'll play the whole season out here," he said "I love it. I don't have to deal with the problems of life, I don't have to take my trash out on Tuesdays or anything else. I just have my kids and my wife up a couple days a week and have dinner with them and then get back to business. That's just my mentality. I'm not sure if anyone else shares that approach."
Tomlin refused to rule anyone out of tomorrow night's game against the Redskins, although it's a given that guard Darnell Stapleton will not play after having surgery on his knee two weeks ago. ... Stefan Logan will get his first chance to return punts and kickoffs, Tomlin said.