And then there were 53

Willie Parker must have been too fast for the Turk - the person with the task of telling players the head coach wants to speak to him - to catch him.

Parker, an undrafted rookie free agent who finished seventh in the NFL in preseason rushing with 202 yards and two touchdowns on 46 carries, beat out second-year running back Dante Brown for the fourth running back spot with the Steelers this year as the team announced its final 10 cuts Sunday afternoon, trimming its roster to 53 players.

Parker, a rookie out of North Carolina, was the only undrafted rookie to earn a spot on the team's opening-day roster, as outside linebacker Dedrick Roper, the only other rookie free agent still on the team's roster, was released.

"He's got very unique speed. He's got excellent hands. He had no problem picking up the offense, and we were even able to play him on third downs some," Steelers head coach Bill Cowher said of Parker. "He's got a lot of very unique qualities that are intriguing, and the opportunities he had - even though a lot of it was late in games - he made the most of it. It's rare to find a big, tough guy like he is who can catch and can run like he can, with the speed that he has."

Brown, the team's leading rusher in the preseason last year, did not see any game action last season. The Steelers attempted to trade Brown, but were unable to do so.

Also released Sunday were veteran outside linebacker Adrian Ross, nose tackle Kendrick Clancy - who opened the 2001 season as the team's starter at that position - safety Russell Stuvaints, place-kicker Rod Bironas fullback J.T. Wall, and rookies Drew Caylor, Bo Lacy and Eric Taylor. Caylor and Lacy, both offensive linemen, were sixth-round draft picks this year, while Taylor, a defensive lineman, was the team's seventh-round pick.

The release of Roper and Ross means Alonzo Jackson will be the team's backup outside linebacker along with James Harrison.

"His last two games have been his best two games," Cowher said of Jackson. "He's played pretty well. Then you have to come down to a game-day roster, and that's not always indicative of where guys are. We'll have to see where that is from that standpoint, because a lot of times the kicking game becomes a part of that. That's why the 45-man game-day roster is not always indicative of where guys are in terms of the depth chart."

The Steelers had three sixth-round draft picks this year and the third, tight end Matt Kranchick of Penn State, was one of four players at his position retained by the team.

The Steelers' final roster also includes three quarterbacks, five running backs, five wide receivers, nine offensive linemen, six defensive linemen, eight linebackers, 10 defensive backs and three specialists.

Parker and Kranchick were two of just five rookies to make the roster, joining quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, cornerback Ricardo Colclough and offensive tackle Max Starks, the Steelers' first, second and third-round draft picks.

The Steelers can begin filling spots on their eight-man practice squad today.

Caylor, Stuvaints, Roper, Lacy and Wall are among those expected to be added by the Steelers to their practice squad. Brown is also eligible, but may be signed by another team.

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