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Parker Embraces Competition At Running Back


Willie Parker may be an established NFL veteran, but competing for a roster spot is not unfamiliar territory for the 7th-year running back.

Five years ago, Parker was an unknown second-year running back on the Pittsburgh Steelers. He trailed Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley on the depth chart.

When Bettis and Staley were sidelined with injuries early in the 2005 season, Parker was suddenly elevated to the starting lineup. He played so well that coaches could not take him out of the lineup.

Now in Washington, Parker once again finds himself in competition for a roster spot, this time with fellow veterans Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson.

Even before Parker signed with the Redskins on April 5, he knew the competition would be intense.

"I just figured it was like when I first came into the NFL," he said. "I was behind Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley and it was like a no-win situation. But I made the best out of it. Now I can look at [Portis and Johnson] and kind of tie it in to my own history."

During off-season work, all three running backs pushed each other to get better, Parker said.

"We took it a little higher each mini-camp," he said. "Then in training camp we'll get after it. When you have two high-caliber backs that complement you, you have to be on your Ps and Qs. That's how I feel.

"We're definitely 'Been there, done that'-type of guys. All of us have made the Pro Bowl two times apiece, so the competition level is at a real high standard."

It's unusual for a running back of Parker's pedigree to be battling for a roster spot.

In six NFL seasons with the Steelers, Parker rushed for 5,378 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also had 84 receptions for 697 yards and five touchdowns.

His 75-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl XL marked the longest run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history, besting Marcus Allen's 74-yard run against the Redskins in Super Bowl XVII.

With Parker on board in Washington, the Redskins have three of the best running backs of the last decade on the roster. In 2005, Parker, Portis and Johnson combined for 943 carries, 4,468 rushing yards and 35 rushing touchdowns.

However, they are each in the second half of their careers: Parker is 29, Portis is 28 and Johnson is 30.

Parker, regarded as a classic speed back with good cut-back ability, has heard the whispers that he has lost a step. That only pushes him to work harder, he said.

He should have fresh legs -- he had just 98 carries last year (for 389 yards) serving in a supporting role to feature back Rashard Mendenhall in Pittsburgh.

It seems unlikely that Portis, Johnson and Parker would all make the Redskins' final roster, given the need for backup running backs to play special teams.

However, head coach Mike Shanahan has always placed a high value on running backs and he has said he could envision all three making the team.

"Anytime a guy has come in and proven himself, it's instant respect because they have done it year-in and year-out," Shanahan said during OTAs in June. "You can take each of those backs and say, 'Hey, this guy has done it. He has done it in some very competitive situations and we know what he can do.'

"Now we get a chance to see where they're at in their careers and see who can go out on the football field and get it done."

The Redskins also have young running backs Ryan Torain and Keiland Williams competing for playing time.

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