Staley: Parker deserves to start

PITTSBURGH – He's only made one start, but Willie Parker is the AFC Offensive Player of the Week and the NFL's leading rusher.

His reaction?

"I don't got no reaction," said Parker. "It's a good feeling, though."

Parker rushed for 161 yards on 22 carries in the Steelers' opening-day win over the Tennessee Titans. He leads Tampa Bay rookie Cadillac Williams by 13 yards in the league rushing race.

"I want to give all the credit to the offensive line and thanks to the Man up above," Parker said. "It's a good feeling. I just don't have no reaction."

Parker has waited so long for a starting job -- any starting job -- he doesn't want to do anything to blow it.

"One week at a time," he said. "One day at a time; one play at a time. I've just got tunnel vision right now.

"It's not real hard because I don't pay attention to the news; I don't pay attention to newspapers. As long as I keep that out of my mind, I'll be alright."

Parker is used to fast starts that go nowhere. As a freshman in college, he started his first game at Three Rivers Stadium and gained over 100 all-purpose yards and scored a touchdown on a hidden-ball play in an upset of Pitt, but found his way back to the bench where he remained through most of his four years at North Carolina.

Parker's trying to stay grounded, and insists he's just holding down the position until Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis recover from injuries.

Staley, though, doesn't see it that way. He was asked if he'd have a problem if he had to remain on the bench behind Parker when healthy.

"No," Staley said. "If he's out there running, and he's doing what he's doing, and putting up great numbers and we're winning, without a doubt leave him in there. Jerome will tell you the same thing. We went through the same thing last year and we didn't miss a beat, so here we go again. Willie comes in and we don't miss a beat."

Jerome Bettis is doubtful for Sunday's game at Houston with a calf injury. He didn't practice Wednesday, and said last week he'd have no qualms about sitting behind Parker.

Staley is questionable for the game against the Texans with a knee injury, but practiced Wednesday.

Will Staley rush back in light of Parker's performance last Sunday?

"No," he said. "Of course, that would be the way you might think – I'm talking about myself – but I can't do that at this point in my career. I've got to make wise decisions and make sure I'm able to go out there and be productive."

Staley said he was excited standing on the sideline last Sunday watching Parker average 7.3 yards per carry.

"I was. It made me smile a couple times," Staley said. "We told him, man, you've got something Bus and I don't have; that's a couple gears. Bussy's got one gear and I may have two-and-a-half. But Willie does have five or six gears and it was fun to see him go out there and run the way he ran."

Parker broke off a 45-yard run and also took a screen pass 48 yards. He scored a touchdown on an 11-yard up the middle in which he pinballed off of several defenders. Yet, Parker believes he should've played better.

"Yeah, I'm very critical of myself," he said. "There was a lot of hidden yardage on that field, but it's over now. I've got to pick that up next week."

The doubters are forming a small line, and it's getting smaller every day, every play.

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