Steelers' young backs hoping to face Detroit

Verron Haynes, Dante Brown and Willie Parker eye playing time.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Bill Cowher wouldn't anoint a starting running back Friday for the Pittsburgh Steelers' preseason opener in Detroit tonight. He called the choice between Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley "a game-time decision."
But as the veterans ease their way into the preseason, a trio of young back-ups hope for a chance to run against the Lions.
Verron Haynes, a third-year player, announced his intentions on the day he reported to camp. He wore a shirt that read, in big, bold letters: "Give me the ball and I'll take it."
The 5-foot-8, 222-pound Haynes is carved like a bodybuilder and is eager to prove he's recovered from a knee injury that ended his season early last December.
The Steelers have even more depth behind Haynes.
Dante Brown led the team in rushing last preseason. The other halfback, rookie free agent Willie Parker played at North Carolina.
Fastest running back
Parker is easily the Steelers' fastest running back, and he could be the fastest player on the team. He claims to have run the 40-yard dash in 4.2 seconds, "but I run a 4.3 consistently," he said. Parker was timed by Steelers scouts in 4.3 seconds at North Carolina's pro day last spring. Yet, he wasn't drafted. He's hoping to open some eyes tonight in Detroit.
"I'm excited," Parker said. "It's another opportunity for me and I'm really excited about playing this game, the game I love."
Parker rushed for 355 yards as a freshman at UNC, and then 400 yards as a sophomore. He added another 131 on 19 carries against Auburn in the Peach Bowl as a sophomore, but his numbers began to decline his junior (236) and senior (181) seasons. He wasn't hurt; he wasn't in trouble off the field; he wasn't behind in his studies.
"My running back coach made it hard for me all throughout college," Parker said. "As soon as he got there he just made it so hard for me. Everything I did was wrong."
Learning the plays
Parker was asked if he had trouble learning the plays.
"It wasn't none of that," he said. "My coach just had a thing with me. You could ask anybody. All the fans used to be wondering 'Why Willie Parker ain't playing? He the best. Why this? Why that?' It just didn't happen."
Brown was in a similar situation last season. After enjoying early success at Memphis, Brown was demoted as a senior to make room for a highly recruited freshman. Brown wasn't drafted and signed with the Steelers as a free agent. He led the team in preseason rushing with 106 yards on 24 carries.
"My approach to this camp and preseason was to do even better than last year," Brown said. "If I can do that, that will for sure, I think, open some eyes around here."
Brown was cut by the Steelers last August, but was signed to their practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster on Sept. 15 and remained with the team the remainder of the season, although he didn't play.
"If I do what I did last preseason," he said, "they'll have to look hard at me again."
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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