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OWINGS MILLS — Fast Willie Parker has rapidly risen to the top of the Baltimore Ravensâ€™ defensive agenda. The appropriately nicknamed Pittsburgh Steelers running back is capable of changing games in a fast-twitch instant.
Ranked fifth among all NFL rushers with 893 yards, Parker dashed for a career-high 213 yards alone two weeks ago against the New Orleans Saints.
With nine rushing touchdowns and a dozen total scores, heâ€™s just three shy of tying the teamâ€™s single-season touchdown record set by wide receiver Louis Lipps in 1985.
â€œThat speed, boy,â€ Ravens coach Brian Billick said. â€œThat speed is eye-popping.â€
With four 100-yard games already, Parker is on pace to eclipse his career-high 1,202 yards gained last season during the Steelersâ€™ run to a Super Bowl championship. The former undrafted free agent from North Carolina caught a touchdown and rushed for another in the Steelersâ€™ 24-20 win over the Cleveland Browns last Sunday, and has scored six touchdowns in the past three games.
â€œThe guyâ€™s been fast since he came out,â€ linebacker Adalius Thomas said. â€œHeâ€™s been running the ball well lately. The first thing weâ€™ll have to do is stop Parker.â€
With 107 more yards Sunday against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, Parker would become the first Steelers back to gain 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons since Jerome Bettisâ€™ six straight between 1996 and 2001.
â€œItâ€™s very difficult, but this season weâ€™re going to face every good back in the NFL,â€ defensive end Terrell Suggs said. â€œHeâ€™s just another good one. If you want to win, you have to stop the run. Thatâ€™s No. 1 on our list. Heâ€™s definitely a dangerous runner.â€
The Ravens rank third in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing just 82.1 rushing yards per contest. They have allowed one 100-yard rusher (Tennessee Titans running back Travis Henry) since last December.
â€œThatâ€™s been our No. 1 goal, even in the past: â€˜Never give up a 100-yard rusher,â€ Suggs said. â€œWe let one go, but thatâ€™s in our past. We just pride ourselves on stopping the run, so thatâ€™s what weâ€™re going to try to do.â€
TRAINING ROOM: The Ravens are taking a cautious approach toward middle linebacker Ray Lewisâ€™ status as heâ€™s complaining about discomfort from a severely bruised back that has kept him out for the past two games. Heâ€™s listed as questionable on the injury report and didnâ€™t have a lot of activity at practice Wednesday.
â€œWeâ€™ll just have to progress through it, see how he is,â€ Billick said. â€œDidnâ€™t do a lot and weâ€™ll see how he is [today].â€
While handing out turkey dinners Tuesday, Lewis told reporters that his back is still troubling him and that he wasnâ€™t certain if he would play against the Steelers. â€œItâ€™s not settling down like I wish it would,â€ Lewis said. â€œItâ€™s still bothering me.â€
Meanwhile, offensive guard Keydrick Vincent (groin) and tight end Daniel Wilcox (hamstring) are questionable, but both said they plan on playing. â€œMy leg feels much better than I thought it would,â€ Wilcox said. â€œItâ€™s loosening up.â€
Rookie Chris Chester would start again at right guard if Vincent is unavailable.
SAMS HONORED: Return specialist B.J. Sams was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after returning six kicks for 212 yards in a 24-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Samsâ€™ 12.5 punt return average ranks third in the NFL, and his 26.0 kickoff return average ranks sixth in the entire league.
â€œWeâ€™re just starting,â€ Sams said. â€œThis is a fresh start for us. Itâ€™s a new beginning for us, and weâ€™re on a good path.â€
QUICK HITS: All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden has rebounded from a rough start to the season preceded by the death of his father days prior to training camp. Since sitting out camp for personal reasons, Ogden has shut down many of the leagueâ€™s best pass rushers and seems to be playing his best football in years. â€œI think Jonathan is playing as well as Iâ€™ve seen Jonathan play,â€ Billick said. â€œIt started off a little slow obviously because he missed training camp. He went through the emotional strain losing his father. Itâ€™s understandable. Those who want to comment that Jonathan has lost his skills or isnâ€™t as good as he used to be are doing it from up in the stands somewhere. Theyâ€™re not doing it on the field, I promise you.â€ â€¦ Durable Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward (hyperextended knee) is listed as questionable, and Steelers coach Bill Cowher was noncommittal on his prospects for Sunday. â€œHines hasnâ€™t missed many games, but I think itâ€™s 50-50, as I put down as questionable,â€ Cowher said. â€œHopefully, heâ€™ll progress as the week goes on.â€ â€¦ Pittsburgh listed wide receiver Willie Reid (foot) as doubtful and running back Najeh Davenport (groin) as questionable. â€¦ The Ravens signed offensive tackle Mike Kracalik (San Diego State) to the practice squad.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland