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Parker tests knee in drills, eager to get back on the field

LATROBE, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Steelers running back Willie Parker is restless and unhappy at being sidelined for nearly two weeks because of a sore knee. His teammates are even more eager for the 1,400-yard rusher to resume practicing.

Parker has been inactive much of training camp, held out of practices since July 30 because of an unspecified left knee injury. He has been ruled out of Saturday's exhibition game against Green Bay and doesn't expect to play Aug. 18 at Washington.

As he predicted he would before Thursday's practice, Parker took part in some drills to test the knee, but he did not go through a full workout.

"I'm not in a rush to play the next game (Aug. 18), either, to be honest," Parker said. "I'm going to make sure it's healed all the way up. I'm not going to be stupid and go out there and reaggravate it. There wasn't any swelling in the knee, but my body was sore and my leg was sore."

The Steelers have been unusually evasive about specifics of the injury. Parker is a Pro Bowl running back, a key to their offense and their team MVP, and they obviously know exactly what's wrong. Only they're not saying.

Parker, who expects to resume practicing on Monday, wouldn't confirm or deny his knee required draining but emphasized he did not have arthroscopic surgery and does not need it.

"I didn't have any surgery," he said. "I've got good legs."

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, aware of how difficult it would be for the Steelers to replace Parker, said he's only being cautious and there's no hidden injury.

"We don't want a short-term issue to become a long-term issue," Tomlin said. "In the meanwhile, we're creating a little short-term misery for him. He's driving me absolutely crazy, but that's OK. He's paid to play, and we're paid to kind of make the decisions along the lines of we're making right now."

While he has been out, Tomlin said Parker is so enthused at being involved that he has become an unofficial player-coach by offering advice whenever he finds it necessary. Even if most of it is unsolicited advice.

"Willie is a blue-collar worker and all he wants to do is go to work," Tomlin said Thursday. "The running backs are starting to call him coach Parker because he's wearing them out. But that's what makes him what he is."

Parker agreed his mouth moves more quickly than his mind when he watches the other running backs and sees a mistake. He blames the influence of Jerome Bettis, the former Steelers star and team leader who was his unofficial mentor when Parker arrived in Pittsburgh in 2004.

"I think the other guys are kind of mad at me. I've kind of been overcoaching them and giving them a lot of advice, but that's the blueprint the Bus gave me," Parker said. "He told me that if you see talent in other people, always go at them hard and tell them what they're doing right and what they're doing wrong. That's the role I took when I was hurt."

When Bettis' career was winding down and the Steelers were uncertain where the running game would come from once he retired, they signed former Eagles star Duce Staley as a replacement. Staley got hurt and it was Parker -- an undrafted former backup at North Carolina -- who emerged as Bettis' surprise successor.

Parker, arguably the fastest running back in team history, ran for 102 yards against Buffalo in his first substantial NFL playing time in the final game of his rookie season. A season later, with Bettis as his backup, Parker ran for 1,202 yards on the Steelers' Super Bowl-winning team.

Parker was better last season, gaining 1,494 yards, the third-highest total in team history, and making the Pro Bowl. He was also voted team MVP only three years after he was held to 181 yards during his senior season in college.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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