Parker deserves mention among NFL's elite

Willie Parker (Tony Dejak/AP)

If Willie Parker continues at his current pace, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be asking for his cleats at the end of the season.

The Steelers' running back leads the NFL with 368 yards rushing through three weeks. It's a pace at which, if he continues, would put him on the cusp of a 2,000-yard season with 1,966 yards.

How special would that be?

Only five players in league history have run for more than 2,000 yards in a season, a feat most recently accomplished by Jamal Lewis with Baltimore in 2002.

The other four runners to do it? They go by the names O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders and Terrell Davis.

Is it time to begin talking about Parker as being one of the best running backs in the league?

Three games into the season, he's rushed for more yards than San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson and Kansas City's Larry Johnson – combined.

"Everything changes so much week to week, where you're at through three games doesn't mean anything," said Parker, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the Steelers' three games this season, including 133 in Sunday's win over San Francisco.

"I don't even think about those things."

Parker is a big reason for the Steelers' 3-0 start to this season. The scary thing for opposing defenses has to be the fact that Parker has yet to break off any really long runs yet.

Though Parker already has eight runs of 15 or more yards this season, his longest gain of the season was a 25-yarder in Week 1 against Cleveland. Yet Parker is averaging a robust 5.0 yards per carry this season on his NFL-high 74 rushing attempts.

It's been a far different story than in previous years, when Parker would be stopped for little or no gain on 10 or 11 carries in a game and then break off a long run.

In fact, last season, Parker had seven carries of 30 or more yards, including runs of 72 and 76 yards in a 213-yard effort against the New Orleans Saints.

Parker says it's only a matter of time before those kind of runs start coming again this season as well. Then again, the way he's going now, whether he gets those runs or not is a moot point.

"Teams are lining up to stop me every week," said Parker. "But our offensive line is doing a great job. I can't say enough about the job those guys are doing. They deserve more credit for the way they're playing."

Up next for Parker and the Steelers are the Arizona Cardinals, a team that is in the middle of the pack stopping the run, allowing 101.7 yards per game and 4.0 yards per carry.

Might the Cardinals, who are coached by former Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, have some tricks up their collective sleeve to slow Parker?

"I think a lot of things have changed already as far as the scheme that those guys had going here," said Steelers guard Alan Faneca. "Formations and plays have already changed, so I don't think there's going to be a need to change a lot of things we're doing and how we're doing them so they don't know what we're doing."

Practice notes

Center Sean Mahan returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday with a knee injury. … Sitting out Thursday's practice were wide receiver Hines Ward (knee), tight end Matt Spaeth (thigh), tackle Trai Essex (ankle) and cornerback Ricardo Colclough (back).

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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