Haynes Runs Into Backfield Picture

Jerome Bettis played fullback at Notre Dame, blocking for Ricky Watters and occasionally carrying the football with reckless abandon. But Bettis has proven to be more than solid carrying the ball as a feature back in the NFL, gaining over 11,000 career yards.

The Steelers aren't about to say that Verron Haynes is going to be an 11,000-yard running back in the NFL, but they are intrigued at the running ability of the former University of Georgia fullback.

Despite selecting Haynes in the fifth round of last year's draft with the intent to keep him at fullback, the Steelers now see Haynes as a running back. And Haynes couldn't be happier.

"I'm excited about the opportunity," said Haynes, who gained 21 yards on five carries and also caught two screen passes for another 20 yards in Saturday's 26-13 Steelers' loss at Detroit. " Fullback is fine and I could play fullback, but I think I'm better with the ball in my hands."

The Steelers agree.

At 5-9, Haynes is just an inch taller than fellow running back Amos Zereoue. And like Zereoue, Haynes is built like a brick house. But while Zereoue weighs in at 210 pounds, Haynes carrying 225 pounds on his well-muscled frame.

That's why the Steelers saw him as a fullback, a position he played his junior season and half of his senior season at Georgia after transferring there from Western Kentucky. But after injuries sidelined the Bulldogs' top running backs midway through his senior season, Haynes was moved into the position.

He flourished carrying the ball, going over 100 yards in each of his last four games.

After playing at fullback during training camp last season, Haynes was tried at running back after injuries to Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala and Jerome Bettis left the Steelers thin at the position. Haynes carried the ball 10 times for 51 yards and caught three passes for another 10 yards playing mostly as a third-down back before a broken leg in December against Carolina.

It was a tough ending to his rookie season, but Haynes feels he learned a lot.

"Playing fullback last season really helped me as a running back," said Haynes, who also led the Steelers with 18 special teams tackles. "Now I know not only what the running back is looking at on a play, but I know what the fullback's duties are."

With Zereoue, Bettis and Fuamatu-Ma'afala back again this season, along with fullback Dan Kreider, four of the team's running back positions are likely taken. The Steelers usually keep five and may choose to go without a true backup fullback to Kreider, again opening up a spot for Haynes.

Haynes could also push the injury-prone Fuamatu-Ma'afala off the roster if the Steelers choose to keep another fullback - probably rookie J.T. Wall - around to back up Kreider, who will be an unrestricted free agent next season.

"I'll do whatever I have to make this team," Haynes said. "I'll play special teams, running back, fullback, whatever. I just want the opportunity to be on the field."

Here are some other notes from Saturday's debacle from a writer who would like to say something nice about the announcing crew from the game but learned a long time ago that if you can't say something nice. ...

© Maybe that's a little harsh, but it would be nice if the guys working a game showed up at practice more than once or twice in two weeks. Guys, don't take a coach's word that a player is having a good camp, come on out and see for yourself. We don't bite.

© I like Bob Pompeani and Edmund Nelson too much to say anything more. Actually, they do an OK job considering the number of players being run in and out of those games.

© Chidi Iwuoma is probably going to be the No. 4 cornerback on this team.

Iwuoma is a good player and nice coverage guy, but his lack of height really is a detriment as evidenced on the TD he allowed to Scotty Anderson.

The 6-3 Anderson just out jumped Iwuoma on the play, despite very good coverage.

© As head coach Bill Cowher once said about Chris Oldham, you can't ask the player to grow bigger, you just have to deal with his limitations.

© Ike Taylor is not a kickoff return man.

© Plaxico Burress still struggled making a clean catch, often making the catch after batting the ball with his hands.

Combine Burress' body with Hines Ward's hands and savvy, and you'd have a receiver nobody could stop.

© Alonzo Jackson is too weak to be that slow. He needs a little Kendrell Bell in him. Don't think out there son, just go get the ball.

© People who don't feel the Steelers need a running attack need only look at the first-team offense's scoring drive. Jerome Bettis hit the Lions for a couple of decent runs between the tackles and it opened up play action.

Tommy Maddox missed Burress deep on one play that would have been a touchdown, and the entire Detroit defense bit on a fake to Bettis that set up Ward on a nice end around.

© Taylor may not be a kickoff return guy, but he and Troy Polamalu sure can fly as the outside gunners on punt coverage.

© Polamalu is going to be a very good player for the Steelers this season.

But Mike Logan is playing too well to unseat at strong safety at this point.

If Polamalu is going to start, it will be by him pushing Brent Alexander to the bench with Logan shifting to free safety.

Dale Lolley

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