Thursday notebook: Parker to tough it out

PITTSBURGH – Fast Willie Parker and his shoulder harness were on the practice field for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday and by all appearances ...

... he'll start Sunday for the second time in seven games.

Coach Mike Tomlin said he'll bring more than speed to the anemic Steelers' offense.

"A lot of times people associate him with his biggest and best attribute, which is his speed," said Tomlin. "But the thing that jumps out at me when I think about Willie Parker is that he's a tremendous competitor and he's physically and mentally tough."

Parker opened the season with a 138-yard game, way back in the days when the Steelers did things like run the ball on nine of 10 plays to open the second half.

Parker then rushed for 105 yards against Cleveland, hurt his knee against Philadelphia, and came back to rush for 70 yards against Washington. He injured his shoulder that night, but continued playing and woke up in great pain and sat out last week's game against Indianapolis. It's the same injury – a shoulder sublexation – that caused safety Ryan Clark to miss a game before he came back last Sunday.

"It's painful, but Willie's a tough guy," said Clark. "You're talking about a guy his size who plays running back and totes the pill as many times as he does a game. Willie's going to be fine. He might have to watch how he falls on it, or what how he gets hit, but he's going to do a good job."

"Any time you can add a dynamic back like Willie Parker, who can take it to the house from anywhere on the field, you have to be happy," said receiver Hines Ward. "It definitely helps make our offense a little more explosive, and teams are going to have to defend that."


Tomlin was hopeful, after Sunday's game, that left tackle Marvel Smith might return from his four-game absence because of back spasms, but Smith missed Thursday's practice and remains doubtful for Sunday. Tomlin was asked if Smith's "in danger of not coming back this year."

"Not at this point, no," Tomlin said.

Tight end Heath Miller (ankle) and cornerbacks Bryant McFadden (forearm) and Deshea Townsend (hamstring) have been ruled out of Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers, but outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) returned to practice and is expected to play.

"I thought he looked good," Tomlin said of Woodley. "We'll see how he feels in the morning, but based on what he did (Thursday) I feel good about him."

The only other Steeler to miss a portion of Thursday's practice was backup running back Gary Russell, who was limited with a quadriceps injury.


Fernando Bryant, a first-round draft pick out of Alabama in 1999, has been out of football since August, when he was cut by the New England Patriots. So the Steelers aren't really sure where their newest player will play Sunday.

"That's to be determined," said Tomlin. "He's working extremely hard trying to get up to speed and trying to understand what we do and the intricate details that are required to play winning football. That's a lot to take, given the complexity of our defense, but he is a veteran player and that was one of the things that we found attractive.

"These next 48 hours are going to be critical in terms of deciding his role and what he's capable of doing for us. So far, so good, but we're going to need every one of those 48 hours."

Tomlin was asked if Bryant could replace the new starting cornerback, William Gay, on special teams.

"This guy started a lot in this league so he hasn't played a lot of teams," Tomlin said. "I asked him when was the last time he did that in a football game, and he said the late 90s in Tuscaloosa. So, not much special teams experience, but he's willing."

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