As promised, Tomlin running Steelers' Parker "until the wheels come off" Print
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Thursday, 27 September 2007 13:46
NFL Headline News

 PITTSBURGH (AP) -Mike Tomlin didn't need long to realize the value of Willie Parker.
Three games and three Pittsburgh Steelers victories into the season, Parker is the NFL's leading rusher and Tomlin is promising to run the two-time 1,000-yard running back ``until the wheels come off.''
They've haven't yet, a main reason why the Steelers came improve to 4-0 for the first time since 1979 if they can beat the Arizona Cardinals and former assistant coaches Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm on Sunday. Parker has 368 yards through three games, and a string of four 100-yard games dating to last season.
``He is a tough runner. He is a competitor. A lot of times you talk about the things you can measure, but really the things that define greatness are the things that you can't measure,'' Tomlin said. ``He is a tremendous competitor.''
The Steelers have been one of the NFL's most run-heavy teams for a half-century, yet they haven't had the NFL's leading rusher since Bill Dudley ran for 604 yards in 1946. Parker leads Oakland's LaMont Jordan by 18 yards.
``I'm getting a lot of publicity about it and a lot of respect about it,'' said Parker, a former college backup who now leads the NFL. ``I stay away from the individual numbers because one week you can be up and one week you can be down.''
Tomlin, Minnesota's defensive coordinator before becoming Steelers coach, arrived with the perception that the fast Parker was more of a turn-the-corner running back than one who can get the tough yards inside. Parker has quickly reshaped that opinion by running for 109 yards against Cleveland, 126 against Buffalo and 133 against San Francisco.
Against the 49ers, Parker had nearly 100 yards more than Frank Gore, the NFL's No. 3 rusher a season ago who was limited to 39 yards.
``Willie's taking what the defense is giving him,'' Tomlin said. ``He has had the ability to bounce to the perimeter and use his speed, which is something that is well documented. I think he is underrated as an inside, tough runner.''
To Whisenhunt, what is overlooked about the 5-foot-10, 220-pound Parker is that he can quickly read a play as it develops and make the proper cut. Such instincts are uncommon for a running back who played as little as Parker did at North Carolina, where he was benched early in his career and didn't gain even 200 yards his senior season.
``I think Jerome (Bettis) helped him with that, especially with his inside runs,'' Whisenhunt said. ``He is very patient and can find the hole and gets the tough yards. What really makes Willie such a threat is his ability to get to top speed in one step and make that break outside. That is something you really have to concern yourself with, because I have seen him do it a number of times.''
Parker is coming off a 1,594-yard season that was the third best by a running back in Steelers history. He had 1,202 yards the season before as he helped the Steelers win the Super Bowl.
Parker's strong running and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's mostly error-free play have contributed to the Steelers' best start since 1992. Roethlisberger has thrown only one interception in three games compared to seven a year ago as the Steelers have won each of their three games by at least a three-touchdown margin.
``Three and 0? It don't even feel like we're 3-0,'' Parker said. ``We don't even pay attention to the record.''
The explanation for that? The Steelers are so intent on getting back to being the contending team they've traditionally been after going 8-8 last year, and making the transition to a new coach, they've been letting the wins pile up without much reflection on how they're doing it.
``We are just playing together and having fun,'' Parker said. ``Last season kind of hurt us, so we're going out and fighting every week.''
Parker, like his teammates, has been looking forward to going against Arizona. Whisenhunt was a Steelers assistant coach for six years and their offensive coordinator for three, and Grimm was former coach Bill Cowher's assistant head coach.
Parker said coaches always spend time pointing out an opposing player's weaknesses, and he is curious what Whisenhunt is telling the Cardinals (1-2) about him.
``He never told me what my weaknesses were,'' Parker said. ``But it makes the game more exciting. We know who's over there, Russ and all them they're going to be out there to win. They're going to be jacked up for this game.''
 

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