Notebook: Amos miles ahead of last year

<b> LATROBE – </b> One man's loss is often another man's gain. Just look at Jerome Bettis and Amos Zereoue. <br><br> Bettis, the Steelers' big tailback, dropped down to 252 pounds for camp, even dipping to 249 this week. Apparently, the weight was transferred to Zereoue, who checked in at a career-high 213 pounds.

"I bulked up but in a good way," said Zereoue. "I just felt like if more was expected of me I had to be ready to take that load. Knowing that Tommy [Maddox] will be back there and looking around, you have to be able to sustain your block, so I figured I'd put a little weight on.

"I never weighed this much and I'm going to try to maintain it. I feel good, real good. It's not slowing me down. Actually I'm a little faster right now. It's a good weight for me."

Zereoue weighed in last year at 205 after enduring a liver problem the previous spring. He's feeling much better this year.

"Oh, it's like night and day," he said. "I feel lighter; I feel stronger. Things are not as exhausting as they were last year. I'm in and out and I don't feel tired the next day. Everything's coming together perfectly. If I can maintain that I'll be fine."

Zereoue expected to take advantage of an aging and expanding Bettis to grab the starting job, but Bettis reported in shape and is running like a young colt. It's probable that Zereoue will be relegated to third-down status again.

"If that's what I have to do than I'm cool with that," he said.

Tim Levcik suffered a sprain and slight tear of the MCL in his right knee Wednesday morning and is expected to miss seven to 10 days. To replace him on the practice field, the Steelers signed second-year player Phil Stambaugh of Lehigh. Stambaugh has spent time in the NFL with Buffalo, Jacksonville, New Orleans and the New York Giants. This past spring he played for Berlin of NFL Europe and therefore does not count against the Steelers' 80-man roster.

Reserve cornerback Chidi Iwuoma sprained his left ankle in practice Thursday and was helped from the field. ... Bettis didn't practice Thursday after having the same foot stepped on successive days. He's expected back Friday morning. ... Polamalu had a cramp in his calf Wednesday night but he said he's fine. ... Slot receiver Antwaan Randle El wore a pad on his right hand Thursday but practiced without it Thursday night. He thinks the soft-tissue injury came from smacking a helmet.


After explaining to a reporter why the Steelers' receiving trio of Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Randle El was the best in the league, Maddox was asked to explain the new emphasis on dumping the ball off to fullbacks and tight ends.

"I think a lot more has been made of that than need be," Maddox said. "The thing is, it's just decision-making. I mean, obviously [wide receivers] are my first look down the field and we want to get the ball in their hands because they can make big plays. But if it's not there, if the defense is trying to take them away, then we've got to be patient, check the ball down and try to get them out of that coverage."

After the first-team offense was stopped on four running plays at the goal line Wednesday night, the second-team offense threw a play-action pass on first down to tight end Casey Poppinga, who easily beat rookie linebacker Alonzo Jackson for a 5-yard touchdown.

"It was the worst, the worst," said Jackson, a second-round pick. "I hate the fact I let my teammates down. I always want to be one of the people doing some of the positive things but that was a big negative. Everybody else had their responsibilities covered but me and that made me feel real mad. But I guess it's better to learn in practice than in Cleveland."

Jim Wexell

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