Notebook: Parker a ripped rocket

LATROBE – Willie Parker took the first snap, Duce Staley took the second and Verron Haynes took the third at running back Sunday. After that, they took turns in scattershot fashion throughout practice.

There's no rhyme or reason to the Pittsburgh Steelers' plan at the position right now.

"We're just doing it by play," said offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. "We're trying to give everybody the same looks and the same situations, so we're kind of rotating in and out, based more on the play than anything else."

While Haynes and Staley compete for the jobs on third-down and/or short-yardage, the starting job is Parker's to lose.

Is he as hungry at this camp as he was last year at his breakout camp?

"I'm real hungry. Look at me," the bare-chested Parker said as he flexed his stomach to show off a ripped six-pack. "Oh, yeah, I'm hungry."

Parker refused to discuss last season, or the Super Bowl, and said he won't even take a peek at the new Super Bowl record book that includes his name for longest run (75 yards).

"Nah, never that. I don't even care about that any more," he said. "I guess the fans care about it more than I do or my family."

Parker was little more than an emergency backup at the start of last year's camp, but he opened eyes. Coach Bill Cowher started him in the opener and 1,202 yards and a Super Bowl record run later Parker's known nationwide as "Fast Willie."

He hasn't lost his desire. Has he lost any speed?

"No way," Parker said. "I feel like a rocket."

CARTER FIRST FREE SAFETY

Tyrone Carter opened at free safety for the Steelers yesterday, but it may not mean much down the road. Team officials hope they gave Ryan Clark a $1.65 million signing bonus last spring for a reason. Clark was working second team Sunday with Mike Logan.

"When I came here for the visit, they told me I'll have to compete," Clark said. "But I came into the league as an undrafted free agent, so nothing's ever been given to me and it's kept me hungry. And I'm playing against good players, man, so I have to understand that. It's going to unfold how it unfolds. I'm going to do whatever job they tell me to do."

Carter averaged more than 20 snaps per game down the stretch last season as the third safety in the Steelers' "quarter" defense. He played well, but apparently not well enough to keep the Steelers from shopping in free agency.

"Competition starts today," Clark said. "That's the guy they picked to go and that's how I look at it. Last year, after starting 12 games for the Redskins, I came in and I was third team before the season started but I started the first game I was healthy. It's part of what it is. It's part of competing."

Does Clark understand his assignments?

"Yeah. There never really was a great deal of difference from what I'm used to," he said. "And by me coming here through the offseason, the coaches really helped me before I ever got on the field. So I had a playbook a long time before; whereas some of these young guys, it's going to be a little harder for them. The coaching staff has made me kind of fit in like a veteran."

CROWD CONTROL

Traffic on Route 30, outside of St. Vincent College, was backed up two miles at noon Sunday. The Steelers parked a record 5,000 cars and estimated the crowd at 14,000. They were crammed onto one side of the practice field – the road side – because the three main fields were too wet.

"I apologize to the people up on the hills, but this was the best field we had available," said Coach Bill Cowher. "We have an unbelievable fan base and it was great that they come out here on these days because they are great."

INJURIES

Undrafted rookie linebacker Mike Kudla injured his right hamstring and had to leave practice. Cowher said he'll miss at least a couple days of practice. Fullback Dan Kreider has a mid-foot injury and is day-to-day. Linebacker Joey Porter (knee) and wide receiver Walter Young (foot) are on the PUP list.

OLD MAN RIVER

Deshea Townsend jumped in front of No. 3 receiver Nate Washington to intercept a Ben Roethlisberger pass and return it for a short touchdown. It started Townsend off on the right foot in his battle to keep his cornerback job from second-year man Bryant McFadden.

"Nobody's a starter; that's why you have training camp," Townsend said. "You come here to get better and you come here to make the team. That's how you have to approach it."

Can the soon-to-be 31-year-old get better?

"You have to," Townsend said. "If you're not going up, you're going down. I'm still going up."

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Cowher on the first practice: "It looked OK. It looked like the first day of practice. We have a long way to go. We'll do a little more hitting (Monday), but it was good to get everybody out there for practice, particularly for some of the new people in our system. It was good for them to get out there with the speed a little bit greater and it was good to have everyone in camp because this is what it's going to be from this day forward."

Cowher on rookie Santonio Holmes: "I saw him make a couple of good catches. He looked fine. We had a good talk last night. He's got a lot of work to do, but he's committed to getting caught back up to where he feels comfortable."

FINALISTS FOR COMMISSIONER

Roger Goodell, 47, a 1981 graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, is one of five finalists to succeed NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. The New York City native was recommended by an eight-man search committee that included Steelers chairman Dan Rooney.

Goodell, Gregg Levy, Frederick Nance, Robert Reynolds or Mayo Shattuck will be named NFL Commissioner at an Aug. 7-9 meeting in Chicago.


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