No huddle allowed

With nobody stepping forward on the team's backfield depth chart, the Steelers unleashed another way to save wear and tear on Willie Parker. Are we looking at a return to the 2003 season? Not with Ben Roethlisberger.

The good news for the Pittsburgh Steelers coming out of Saturday night's preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings is that the offense seems to be picking up right where it left off during last season's Super Bowl run, when the team proved capable of scoring points against anybody.

Saturday night, however, the Steelers showed off a new/old wrinkle, as the offense opened the game in a no-huddle and quickly drove down the field to score on a 16-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to wideout Cedrick Wilson.

Roethlisberger said the no-huddle is something the team may use more of this season.

"If we keep on executing how we are, I think it could be a major weapon for us," said the third-year quarterback, who completed three-of-four passes for 30 yards and a touchdown in his only series.

Could we be seeing the end of the Steelers' run-first philosophy once again?

The team tried that in 2003, allowing then-quarterback Tommy Maddox to throw the ball a team-record 519 times, while the team ran the ball just 446 times, the fewest of any Bill Cowher-coached team.

It added up to a 6-10 season and a renewed emphasis on the rushing attack the following season.

It's doubtful that Cowher wants to go back to that kind of attack. But he may also be looking at the current team's roster and realizing that the Steelers don't have the kind of running backs necessary to run the ball like they did in 2004 and 2005, when the team ran the ball 618 and 549 times.

Certainly Cowher has no questions about starter Willie Parker. Parker proved last year in his first season as a starter to be a capable NFL runner, gaining 1,202 yards on 255 carries.

But the Steelers don't want to give Parker too many more than the 255 rushing attempts he had last season. In fact, those 255 carries he had were just 30 less than he had in his entire career at North Carolina. It's highly unlikely the Steelers want him to break that barrier this season.

The question is, who picks up the slack?

In two preseason games, Duce Staley, who the team was counting on to fill the now-retired Jerome Bettis' role as backup to Parker, has looked like a running back on his last legs.

After gaining just 14 yards on seven carries in the team's opening preseason loss at Arizona, Staley didn't fare much better against the Vikings, picking up 11 yards on five attempts.

Certainly, that wouldn't be bad if he were serving solely as a short-yardage back. But considering all of those runs came on first and second down, it's highly troubling.

If Staley is no longer capable of being Parker's backup, Verron Haynes would be next in line. Haynes, however, has never showed much in his previous four seasons as a pure runner, instead carving out a niche as a third-down back. He works well in his role, but it's questionable that he would thrive in Bettis' role, picking up those extra 100 or so carries.

The other running backs on the roster, rookie Cedric Humes or first-year player John Kuhn, just haven't shown to be capable of being anything at this point other than players to take up space at the end of the roster or on the practice squad.

So the team is left hoping Staley somehow rediscovers his running ability – something that, at 31, is unlikely to happen – or toying with different ways to move the ball without wearing Parker out.

On the plus side, at least Roethlisberger looks ready to handle more of the offensive load. It wasn't, after all, the fact that the Steelers threw the ball so much in 2003 that was the biggest problem. The bigger problem was who was throwing the ball. And Roethlisberger is much less likely to make mistakes, even in just his third NFL season, than Maddox ever was.

© Is it just me, or did the Steelers always seem to have problems with Chester Taylor when he was in Baltimore as well?

And while we're on the subject of Taylor, why on earth would you trade one purple uniform for another. Gack!

© Ryan Clark looked a lot like Chris Hope at free safety against the Vikings. He came up strong a few times, but also missed some tackles.

No wonder head coach Bill Cowher doesn't feel the team will miss a beat without Hope in there.

© You Nate Washington doubters out there can start writing your apology notes any time now. The kid's going to be a factor this season.

© The Steelers' battle for a possible third tight end position is looking embarrassing.

Fifth-round draft pick Charles Davis looks like Tarzan, but plays like Jane.

Jon Dekker keeps getting run over like a boy playing with men.

And if Isaac Smolko played Saturday, he didn't make himself apparent in doing so.

Right now, the top candidate for that third tight end spot is offensive lineman Trai Essex. Essex did go to Northwestern as a tight end before going on the cheese pizza diet.

© Branden Joe played a lot against the Vikings, not only in as the team's second fullback, but also on special teams. Right now, I'd say he's the frontrunner to be the team's fifth running back, especially after delivering some solid blows as a wedge buster.

© Speaking of wedge busters, Chris Kemoeatu delivered the blow of the game working as a buster of the wedge, driving his man five yards backward - in the air - on a second quarter kickoff.

© The Steelers are going to only keep two quarterbacks. Omar Jacobs and Shane Boyd were pretty bad again Saturday – though Jacobs did show a little promise despite having to call a timeout on the second play of the third quarter. The only thing they had going for them was that the Vikings' Mike McMahon played in the game as well. McMahon is awful.

It just goes to show, you can find a guy like that to be your third quarterback anywhere.

The bet here is that the Steelers put Jacobs on their practice squad and if somebody else signs him, the Steelers won't mind. At least they won't have to deal with looking at that funky release any more.

© Tarvaris Jackson, now there's a young quarterback to develop. Minnesota got ripped for trading two third round picks to the Steelers for a second round selection with which they took Jackson.

Seems like a trade that will work out for both teams. The Vikings got a kid who looks like their QB of the future. The Steelers got Anthony Smith and Willie Reid.

© Keeping two quarterbacks and two tight ends makes it easier for the Steelers to keep guys like linebackers Arnold Harrison and Richard Seigler or Joe.

© I had questions about Travis Kirschke's status earlier in this training camp. I don't any longer. Right now, he and Chris Hoke are the only two backup defensive linemen worth anything.

Rodney Bailey, Shaun Nua and Orien Harris look overmatched, while Lee Vickers appears to have fallen completely out of the picture.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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