After The Black And Gold Rush

These are the thoughts of a sportswriter who can't remember what the fuss was all about this preseason:

• Although I could write off the many problems the Steelers were having through three preseason games, I fell in with the herd after a lousy fourth week and figured that, yes, these Steelers would struggle early in the season.

• The biggest fear was a ruined passing game and a sophomore quarterback in a funk. But then Ben Roethlisberger went out and pitched a perfect game in the opener. He even threw a deep ball to the new split end for an easy touchdown and utilized both tight ends in the Steelers' new and versatile offense.

• I should keep those thoughts about a golden passing game in check because of the awful Titans secondary. Tony Beckham may have been the worst cornerback I've seen since Harvey "Burnt Toast" Clayton.

• Someone in the press box said Antwaan Randle El beat Chad Scott for his touchdown, but for my money, "Toast" is the measuring stick for awful modern-era Steelers corners.

• There's no reserving any excitement over Fast Willie Parker. The guy adds a new dimension to the team, and everyone saw it coming. One of the veteran writers in town, admittedly worn down by decades of failed spring phenoms and summer flashes, congratulated me for being "ahead of the curve" on Parker, but I waved it off. Everyone saw this kid's speed. I just want my due for the nickname.

• Tunch and Wolf laugh at me every time I bring it up, saying it's an easy nickname and anyone could've thought of it, but someone had to call Joe Greene "Mean" first.

• As Bill Cowher raved about Parker, I thought it was a good time – as opposed to his Tuesday press conference – to ask if he'd get the rock again next week. Cowher was a little brushed back by the question, and hemmed and hawed momentarily, before spitting out the magic words: "I see no reason to make a change at this point."

• Even Cowher's been out ahead of the curve on this one. You just couldn't deny that speed at practice. Parker popped through the line every two or three times he was handed the ball.

Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis are consummate pros and it's easy to see them continuing in that role with this sudden development in the Steelers' lineup. One, they assume they'll be stronger down the stretch; two, Parker's such a fun and humble guy to cheer for; and three, he's exciting to watch, even for a benched veteran.

• As much fun it is to rave about Fast Willie, and calculate Big Ben's perfect passer rating, it would all be for naught this morning if left tackle Marvel Smith hadn't shaken off his leg injury. Smith is still the most valuable starter on either side of the ball.

• When right tackle Max Starks went down with a minor ankle sprain, Barrett Brooks – the only active back-up tackle – entered the game. On his first play, he took one step and fell down. On his second play, he went after the inside linebacker and was spun around and almost fell down again. On his third play, Parker took a handoff and headed Brooks's way, but cut it way wide and ripped off a 45-yard gain. It was his last carry of the game. Perhaps Cowher took Brooks into account when he yanked Parker.

• Brooks left spring practices knowing he'd be in position to help the Steelers, but did little with that knowledge. He may even have gained weight throughout the summer. What a disappointment.

• It appears that Roethlisberger is a "lights-on" type of athlete. Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt couldn't help but agree. The young quarterback seems to concentrate much better when the games mean something.

• Somebody tell Ben the playoffs mean something, too, just in case.

• Imagine yourself gathering in a screen pass and looking up to see Alan Faneca, Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons converging for your protection. You figure this will be a nice 15-yard gain. Fast Willie Parker probably didn't even notice. They were just three guys in his way. Beep, beep.

• The Titans gashed the right side of the Steelers' defense on their first possession, but didn't test it much thereafter. That was the same side the Washington Redskins ran through in the third preseason game. It might be something to worry about.

• The linebacker position is light, but Andre Frazier offered hope with a sack and forced fumble on his second snap. Not bad for a guy who was undrafted five months ago and on the practice squad a few days ago.

• Even the play of Frazier won't stop me from watching college linebackers this season. The best this weekend was A.J. Hawk of Ohio State, but he won't last until the bottom of the round. That guy might be his teammate, outside backer Bobby Carpenter.

• The excitement over Parker is warranted because guys like Tony Beckham and Lamont Thompson were not part of the Titans' front seven. The Titans' front seven included legitimate run stoppers Albert Haynesworth and Keith Bulluck. Willie's the real deal.

• Dan Rooney Jr. is the chairman's son, the president's younger brother, but he doesn't fit the suit-and-tie businessman mold. He instead followed in his Uncle Art's footsteps into scouting. We used to kid him about "discovering" Kendrell Bell, when actually that's like taking credit for seeing Willie Parker's speed first. Everyone saw the speed, and everyone saw Kendrell Bell. Rooney was just the South Regional scout and it was his responsibility to work Bell out. But Rooney can take credit for finding Parker. According to last week's Steelers Digest, Rooney began following Parker because Parker beat a high school team Rooney used to (assistant) coach. Rooney wasn't coaching against Parker at the time, but being a follower of N.C. prep football, he remembered the name and threw Parker on the list of free agents the Steelers signed after the 2004 draft.

• Actually, the first sportswriter in town to say, "Hey, that Parker kid's pretty good" was our own Dale Lolley. I remember Dale trying to think up a jazzy nickname in the Charlie Parker vein that first week of the 2004 training camp. The rest, as they say, is black-and-gold history.


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