The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a very steady running attack over the last four years—thanks in part to running back, Willie Parker.
Since his first full season as the starting running back behind Ben Roethlisberger, "Fast Willie" has been nothing but exceptional.
In his first three seasons, Parker ran for over 4,000 yards and 17 touchdowns, including a Super Bowl record 80-yard rush in Super Bowl XL against the Seahawks.
Parker has also been a very good receiver in the same span, getting 620 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Unfortunately, the 2008 season was not one that Parker wants to remember. Parker only played in 11 games due to injuries on both his shoulder and knee, finishing the season with 791 rushing yards (a career low as a starter), and five touchdowns.
The rushing attacked suffered because of the injuries, only averaging 3.7 yards per rush, which was 29th in the NFL last season. The previous year, the Steelers tied for seventh overall in rushing, averaging 4.2 yards per rush.
With Parker injured, along with the struggles on the offensive line, that put more pressure on the Steelers passing attack to win games. In order for the Steelers to have a very balanced offense in 2009, Parker needs to stay healthy.
Do not expect the play calling to change much with the return of Parker. Instead, expect to see some formations where you see Parker and Rashard Mendenhall or Mewelde Moore in the backfield.
This will make the defense have to play the run a lot more, because they would not know which back will get the ball, which also plays into the hands of the Steelers because they can run play-action out of the same setup.
Parker will definitely be a factor in the passing game, especially on short-yardage situations. He will also provide Ben Roethlisberger another check-down receiver in case Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, and Heath Miller are covered.
Parker can be very useful with the screen pass as well, which would get the ball out of Roethlisberger's hands a lot quicker.
Parker has proved that he is very vital for the Steelers in each aspect of the offense, and he can provide that again if he can stay healthy. As long has he does not get delayed due to injuries, there is no question that he can rush for 1,500 yards this season.
All the Steeler fans will find out when they host the first game of the NFL season on September 10 against the Tennessee Titans.