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Fast Willie brings added dimension to Steelers offense

When Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley were injured before the start of the season, many people predicted the Steelers running game would suffer. After two games, thanks in large part to undrafted free agent running back Willie Parker, that hasn’t been the case.

Willie Parker wasn't a household name before his Week 1 start against the Titans but that all changed after he rushed for 272 yards and two touchdowns in his first two games this season. Parker is a big reason why the Steelers lead the NFL in rushing offense at 175 yards per game.

While Parker isn't the prototypical power back, like the larger Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley, he has something the two veterans don't: Blazing speed. "Parker is very fast," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "He turns five and six yard plays into 50 and 60 yard plays." After two games, Parker has a 5.8 yards per carry average and a long run of 45 yards. He also has a reception of 48 yards. Parker's big-play ability has earned him the nickname "Fast Willie" amongst his teammates.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger echoes Belichick's assessment of Parker. The second-year quarterback said during his Wednesday press conference, "Willie adds a new dimension to what people think of as Steelers football. He has the speed to bounce it outside and give you 20 yards on any given run. Willie is just so much fun to watch. I love having him on this team."

Roethlisberger was also quick to give kudos to his offensive line for their part in Parker's success so far. "The offensive line has done a phenomenal job at opening holes and opening up things in the running game. They are a big reason for our success as well."

Parker was inactive for the Steelers first seven games of 2004 and both playoff games but he showed a glimpse of things to come in the Steelers season finale at Buffalo. With the team resting most of their starters, Parker ran the ball 19 times for 102 yards against a Bills team that needed a win to get into the playoffs.

Despite the fact Parker has a different running style than what the Steelers offense is accustomed to, the team hasn't changed much in terms of the kind of plays they are calling. According to Chad Brown, "They appear to be running the same things they did when Staley and Bettis were in there, just tuned a little differently to fit Parker's skills."

Parker may have entered the NFL as a player few people ever heard of but the Patriots will be focused on him come Sunday. If "Fast Willie" rushes for his fourth straight career 100-yard game, it could be another long Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field for the defending champions.


-- Bethel Johnson was returning kickoffs at practice today.
-- At his Wednesday press conference, Bill Belichick referred to the Steelers play so far this season as "flawless." "It's been a while since I've seen a more dominating team," Belichick went on to say. "We saw that same kind of performance last year from them in our first meeting as well."

-- The Patriots released their injury report today and the following players are listed as questionable: Tully Banta-Cain, Andre Davis, Randall Gay, Brandon Gorin, Jarvis Green, Bethel Johnson, Josh Miller, Jamie Sanders, Duane Starks, Tyrone Poole, Chad Scott, Steve Neal. Tom Brady is listed as probable.

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