Steelers Parker returns to field
Exactly 89 days since Super Bowl XLIII, running back Willie Parker took his first explosive steps on the football field.
Banged up and slowed by injuries last season, Parker pronounced himself ready to go for the Steelers mandatory minicamp beginning Friday on the South Side.
“Today was actually my first day running since the Super Bowl,” said Parker, who carried the ball 19 times for 53 yards in the Steelers’ 27-23 Super Bowl win against Arizona. “Every day I could, I took off. I’ve rested my body to the utmost. I worked out every now and then. I kind of lost weight, but I’m just trying to get back at it now.
“My body was banged up. I listened to my body. I just had to do what’s best for my body.”
Parker wants to make up for what he calls a “bad season.” He rushed for 791 yards in 2008, his lowest total since becoming a starter, and five touchdowns, averaging 3.8 yards a carry.
The wear-and-tear of playing running back in the NFL took its toll on Parker, 28. Following back-to-back seasons of more than 300 carries, Parker was limited to 210 carries in his fifth pro campaign.
Knee and shoulder injuries forced Parker to miss five games and ended a streak of three consecutive seasons with at least 1,200 yards. It was also the first time he averaged less than 4.0 yards a carry.
“My injuries,” Parker, a two-time Pro Bowler, said yesterday. “I like to be on the field every single play, and I didn’t reach any of my (individual) goals so I consider last year kind of a fluke.”
Parker, who figures to share carries with second-year back Rashard Mendenhall, is looking for ways to prepare his body for the 16-game grind. At his trainer’s suggestion, he added Pilates exercises to his offseason routine.
“I feel great,” he said. “I’m kind of doing it to loosen my body as a whole, upper body and lower body.”
Teammates James Harrison and Hines Ward recently signed new contracts entering the final year of their deals. Parker, who is also entering the final year of his deal that will pay him $3.35 million, avoided questions about getting a new contract.
“I’m not talking about a contract. I’m here to work. I’m a Steeler. That’s what it is until someone tells me otherwise,” said Parker, who made the roster in 2004 as an undrafted free agent.
“The Steelers gave me a chance, and I’m proud and happy to be a Steeler. I’m coming off a bad season, but it was a great season for us as a team, and I’ve just got to come out here ready to play. It’s nothing about holding out or anything like that. I’ve just got to make the best decision, and I think the best decision is to be around the team and help out the best way possible.”