Bettis, Bruener remain positive

For the first time in his eight years with the Steelers, Jerome Bettis doesn't have job security, and it shows. <br><br> Bettis reported Tuesday for the first day of the Steelers' coaching sessions in better shape than at the end of last season, when a knee injury and subsequent weight gain limited him to four yards on four carries in two playoff games.

It came on the heels of a 666-yard regular season, Bettis' worst with the Steelers.

"He looks great," said Coach Bill Cowher. "They cleaned his knee at the end of the season. He's fine and he's been working out."

Cowher nudged Bettis along with the rehab process by hinting at the end of last season that Bettis could join Kordell Stewart as a free agent. "We are going to have to talk about the direction and the options we have in regards to these players," Cowher said on Jan. 14.

While Cowher admitted Tuesday that Bettis has lost weight, Cowher didn't make any promises for the running back who's gained 8,451 of his 11,542 career yards with the Steelers.

"He's on our football team," Cowher said. "You know, there's no guarantees. There's going to be some very competitive situations going into camp with Amos (Zereoue) and Fu (Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala) and Jerome. There's no guarantees, but, oh, no, he's here. The way he's approached the off-season I think it's obvious to a lot of people he's out to remove any doubt anyone may have."

Bettis wouldn't talk about his weight, focusing instead on the health of his left knee. He underwent surgery Jan. 27 to repair cartilage.

"It's been two years since I could go into an off-season healthy. I feel good," he said. Bettis rehabilitated in Los Angeles with personal trainer Bob Kersee.

"Sprints, plyometrics, stairs, lifting, you name it we did it. It was a fully comprehensive look at what a track-and-field person would go through," said Bettis, who doesn't normally train with Kersee until the middle of June.

"I just think that sometimes you need to show people that it's still there," Bettis said. "It's just an opportunity for me to come out and show everybody Bus still has some tread left."

Bettis won't have a guaranteed spot in the starting backfield this season, not after Zereoue finished 2002 as the team's leading rusher with 762 yards on 193 carries (3.9 average).

"I'm not hearing a thing," Bettis said of the early depth chart. "Whatever it is, you've just got to deal with it. You figure nobody's going to be really happy, myself or Amos, but you work within the parameters of the team concept and you do what they ask you to do."

Tight end Mark Bruener is in a similar situation. He's also coming off knee surgery and, like Bettis, is due a large salary this season. Bettis' base salary will be $2.75 million and Bruener's will be $2.05 million. By releasing either player after June 1, the Steelers would defer salary-cap space.

"They'll be forthright and honest with me," Bruener said. "If there's going to be a decision that's going to be made in regards to June 1, than I believe they probably would tell me instead of having me working until May 31."

Bruener underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee in December and said he'll be cleared by doctors next week to work full-time with the team. Bruener missed the final six games of the 2002 season, in which he caught 13 passes for 66 yards. The Steelers signed free-agent tight end Jay Riemersma to a three-year, $3.9 million contract on March 20.

"There are a lot of questions that are out there," Bruener said. "What's going to happen? I don't know. We may have to wait until the end of training camp; we might know sooner than that. But my approach hasn't changed. I'm going to do everything I can to prove to this organization I have a lot of football ability left in me. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. You've got to move on. It's a brutal business unfortunately."

Jim Wexell

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