Darkhorse coming on

LATROBE – He took the hand-off, but saw nothing open in front of him, so he cut back and hit the other hole, the open hole, real hard. And, boom, he was gone.

Yep, that Willie Parker, No. 39, he's something else.

What? That was No. 38?

It can't be. Noah Herron is No. 38. He's the Steelers' seventh-round draft pick. He's supposed to be slow.

Let's see, that combine time was … let me look this up …Noah Herron, 5-11, 200, 4.6 40. That can't be right.

There's something else … his 3-cone time is 6.96 seconds, better than all backs at the combine but Cadillac Williams, who nipped Herron at 6.95. Cadillac Williams was drafted fifth in the entire draft.

It also says here that the 3-cone drill measures agility, shiftiness; what a running back really needs. And here's his intelligence, or Wonderlic, score: 25, second of all backs.

At least Noah Herron should be picking up the offense, being from Northwestern and all.

"Right. Everybody says that," said Herron, an otherwise loquacious seventh-rounder.

In the NFL draft, intelligence matters little when your 40 time is 4.6. But Herron's not slow. Not only did he cause a Fast Willie Parker double-take at training camp, he shredded an outstanding Penn State defense, not once but twice in college.

Last year, he carried 30 times for 175 yards, a season-high for anyone against Penn State. It proved his 180 yards on 35 carries the previous season, as a fill-in against Penn State, was no fluke.

"Penn State was good to me I guess," Herron said. "They still have the big athletes and their defense was top-ranked at that time. I don't know. I just found a way to get it done against Penn State."

But this isn't the Big 10 and you're not Fast Willie Parker. Noah Herron, you're a solid workhorse who's nimble enough to run with a Cadillac, and tough enough to have been drafted as a fullback by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

By the way, how's that coming?

"I've been playing tailback the whole time," he said.

However, the Steelers announced Herron would play fullback when they drafted him in April.

"When they drafted me they said I was going to play halfback and emergency fullback," Herron said. "But it hasn't come to me playing any fullback. No meetings or anything. That's good for me. I've been a halfback my whole life. At the same time, I'll be ready to do whatever they ask."

The Steelers will ask much of Herron this preseason. With Duce Staley encountering knee trouble, and Jerome Bettis looking to peak late in the season, the bulk of the preseason carries will be divided by Verron Haynes, Parker and Herron.

Even Haynes, who's had knee problems in the past, will be babied through the preseason, so it'll come down to Fast Willie and Fast Noah. Or Faster Than He's Supposed To Be Noah.

"Your 40 time," Herron said, almost spitting out the words before re-thinking and starting again.

"Obviously you need to run fast," he said. "But there's more to being a running back. You have to have game speed and be able to find your way around the football field. Jerome's not a blazer. He tells me all the time: ‘I'm not fast but I can find my way around the football field.' So that's really what it is. Productivity is really what determines a good back, not necessarily speed.

"Now, in Willie's case, Willie's a blur. When he's out there, he's running. But if you're getting me mixed up with Willie, that means I'm moving pretty good."

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