By Mike Bires
Willie Parker took most of the snaps with the first-team offense at Thursday’s practice. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll start Sunday when the Steelers play the Cleveland Browns.
For one thing, Parker had a busy practice because Rashard Mendenhall was home in bed with the flu.
Secondly, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said that a decision has not yet been reached on the division of labor. Maybe Mendenhall will get his third straight. Maybe Parker will start again now that his turf toe injury has healed to the point where he can play again.
Arians says it will be a game-time decision.
“We’ll probably go up to the last minute,” Arians said.
“I don’t know how they’re going to do it,” said Parker, who hasn’t played since the Sept. 27 loss in Cincinnati. “Whatever Coach (Mike Tomlin) decides. He’ll make that decision. It’s on him.”
Regardless of who starts at running back, the Steelers should be able to run the ball effectively. The Browns rank last in the NFL in rushing defense and are allowing 170.4 yards per game.
KIRSCHKE SET TO REPLACE SMITH AT LEFT D-END
Even though Tomlin said that injured defensive end Aaron Smith will be replaced by a “committee of bodies,” it’s Travis Kirschke who’ll start Sunday.
The other “suspects,” as Tomlin called them will be Nick Eason and rookie Ziggy Hood, the Steelers’ first-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft.
“I have big shoes to fill,” Kirschke said. “Obviously, Aaron is a great player. It’s going to take a great effort by myself, Nick and Ziggy. But that’s what we’re here for.”
Kirschke, who played college football at UCLA, is the oldest player on the Steelers’ roster. He turned 35 on Sept. 4.
He’s one of two 13-year veterans on the team. The other is linebacker James Farrior.
“Travis is the ultimate warrior,” said Farrior, who turns 35 on Jan. 6.
Over the past several years, Kirschke has been bothered by a sore back. He missed practiced Wednesday but returned Thursday.
Even though he’s been held out of several practices since coming to Pittsburgh in 2004, he has yet to miss a game.
POLAMALU WILL WEAR KNEE BRACE
After missing the past four games with a sprained knee, strong safety Troy Polamalu will be back in action Sunday against the Browns.
And for the time being, he will wear a knee brace for extra support.
“It does limit my movement a little bit,” Polamalu said. “But mentally, it helps because you have that security. It’s probably impossible to hurt your knee if you’re wearing (a knee brace).”
WALLACE GETS BALL AFTER FIRST T.D. CATCH
Wide receiver Mike Wallace made two rookie mistakes in this past Sunday’s 28-20 win in Detroit.
First, he dropped what should have been a 71-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
Then in the third quarter after catching a 47-yard TD pass, he was so caught up in the moment that he didn’t keep the football.
“I was so excited that I forgot,” Wallace said. “But luckily, Santonio (Holmes) and Hines (Ward) got it for me.”
Despite the 71-yard drop, Wallace has been on the receiving end of the Steelers’ two longest plays from scrimmage this season. His 51-yard reception in a Sept. 27 loss in Cincinnati is the longest.
With 16 catches, Wallace is fourth on the team in receptions behind Ward (33), tight end Heath Miller (29) and Holmes (23). But it’s Wallace who leads the team with a 15.4 yards per catch average.