Monday, September 06, 2004

Out with the old, in with the new

In a move that surprised virtually no one (other than me), undrafted free agent running back Willie Parker made the Steeler's 53-man roster yesterday. To be honest, I thought that Dante Brown might have a slight edge if for no other reason than he was bigger, had a year under his belt to learn the offense and because he seemed more likely to succeed running between the tackles than the smaller Parker. The Steelers tried to trade Brown or Parker before the 4pm Sunday deadline, but nothing materialized.

Obviously Cowher felt more comfortable with Parker and here's what he said about him in his press conference:

"He’s got very unique speed. He’s got excellent hands. He had no problem picking up the offense, and we were even able to play him on third downs some. He’s got a lot of very unique qualities that are intriguing, and the opportunities he had – even though a lot of it was late in games – he made the most of it. It’s rare to find a big, tough guy like he is who can catch and can run like he can, with the speed that he has."
This is all encouraging and I don't think you can ever have too much speed in the backfield. That said, I don't think Parker will get a lot of touches this season unless there are a rash of injuries in front of him.

My only real concern about Parker was that he didn't even start on a really bad UNC team that won only two games last season. But when he was asked about it earlier this preseason, he said all the right things and didn't look to place the blame elsewhere. He basically said he was in camp to show what he can do and he wasn't looking back.

Still, he showed glimpses of being successful while in college:

Parker had 84 carries for 355 yards as a freshman, but his carries dropped each season. He carried 83 times for 400 yards as a sophomore and capped the season with 131 yards in the Peach Bowl against Auburn. Parker's declining production in his junior (70-236) and senior (48-181) seasons led to the 5-10, 209-pounder with 4.3 speed not being drafted.
Long story short -- I'm glad he made the final cut. I also hope Dante Brown makes it to the practice squad (and this may be for solely sentimental reasons) because in 2005 the Steelers may actually need him to be a bigger part of the offense (I'm assuming that this is Jerome's last season, but who knows).

Changing gears a bit, I noticed that Jason Gildon didn't make the final 53-man roster in Buffalo. The Bills have had a stout defense for the past few seasons, and Gildon was having to adjust to the 4-3 after playing in the 3-4 his whole career in Pittsburgh. When the rumors of Gildon's eventual demise started bubbling to the surface early last week, my first thought was, "maybe the Steelers will bring him back to bolster a shaky outside linebacker position." Again, I'm sure I was thinking more with my heart than my head, but after hearing the Pittsburgh media lambaste Alonzo Jackson, I thought it might actually be a prudent move. Well, I pretty sure it ain't happening because (1) the Steelers' 53-man roster is set and (2) Cowher has given Jackson a strong vote of confidence. Here's Cowher's answer to the question, "Will Alonzo Jackson be the No. 1 backup at both OLB spots?"

There’s no question that he is. If something happens at outside linebacker we feel very comfortable with where he is, playing on the left and right. His last two games have been his best two games. He’s played pretty well. Then you have to come down to a game-day roster, and that’s not always indicative of where guys are. We’ll have to see where that is from that standpoint, because a lot of times the kicking game becomes a part of that. That’s why the 45-man game-day roster is not always indicative of where guys are in terms of the depth chart.
Well, despite what I've read, that's certainly reassuring. Of course my perspective could abruptly change with a shoddy performance against the Raiders. But hey, whatever happens, I feel a lot better about this team now than at any point last year -- and not only that, but the Steelers have a player on the roster from Chapel Hill.

Update: It looks like the Arizona Cardinals will try to reach a settlement with safety Dexter Jackson, who has missed most of the preseason with injuries. The settlement will allow Jackson to go elsewhere and will allow the Cards to jettison a player who benefitted from one good game -- namely his performance in the Super Bowl. And yes, this is the same Dexter Jackson that came within a penstroke of being with the Steelers.

Which reminds me, I seem to recall some Pittsburgh media types yelling and screaming about how losing Jackson led to the Steelers having to trade up in the 2003 draft to get Polamalu and subsequently losing a 3rd and 6th round pick in the process (which of course contributed to a 6-10 season). Well, what if the Steelers had signed Jackson and he was looking to leave Pittsburgh after one mediocre season? Then what? The Steelers would still be looking for a safety and would now have nothing to show for it.

I'm guessing these same people are now rushing to delete their comments from the article archives because it looks like (with my hindsight being 20/400 and all) the Steelers actually did the right thing -- in the short-term and the long-term.