Notebook: Bettis experimenting with brace

<b> LATROBE –</b> Jerome Bettis has fewer yards rushing this preseason (24) than he did after two preseason games last year (26), but it has nothing to do with that bulky knee brace the Steelers' running back wore in Saturday's game. <br><br> Bettis said his knee is fine and that the brace is just for experimental purposes.

"I talked to Curtis Martin two years ago when we played the Jets," Bettis said. "I asked him about his knee brace and he said ‘it kind of protects me.' I always saw him wear it so I asked him if he had a knee problem. He said ‘no.' I just kind of shrugged it off until this year and I asked myself what was the one thing that might derail me? Somebody falling on my knee. So I decided to put one on and get comfortable with it. In case I decide to use it, it's not a situation where I haven't practiced with it. So I've just been practicing with it to get comfortable, and if I do decide to wear it on opening day, I've already been wearing it a couple weeks. I put it on in the second week, just trying to get a feel for it."

Bettis comes into the season as the 10th most productive runner in NFL history. With 11,542 yards, he needs only 532 to tie No. 9 Thurman Thomas and only 770 to tie No. 6 Jim Brown.

"It's an honor to be that close to him," Bettis said. "In most circles he's considered the best running back to ever play the game. That's an honor. It really is."

However, Bettis said passing Brown isn't one of his goals.

"It's something you look at," he said. "But you only keep it in the back of your mind. Realistically, you think about winning football games. If I only get two yards, and we win the championship, it was worth it.

"I mean, I look at it but I don't dwell on it because at the end of the day I just want to win."

The best of three minor camp skirmishes took place Tuesday during the final one-on-one line drills of training camp.

It began with Keydrick Vincent breaking his own chin strap. He put his helmet on anyway and dug in to face rookie Roy Attieh, who popped Vincent's helmet off.

Vincent picked up his helmet, slammed it down over his head and dug in for a second go-around with the rookie. This time, Vincent beat him badly, but Attieh knocked the helmet off again and then took a swing at Vincent's head and missed. The two went at it and were broken up quickly. A few snaps later, Attieh went at it with another offensive lineman, Todd Fordham, and again, the fight was broken up quickly.

The Steelers are encouraging fans to arrive at Heinz Field early for Thursday's 8:11 p.m. preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys. The Coca-Cola Great Hall and South Plaza will open at 5:30 p.m., a half-hour earlier than entrance gates.

After the game, the Great Hall will play host to Myron Cope's Cabana, a post-game phone-in talk show with Cope, Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley.

Defensive end and resident sage Kimo von Oelhoffen on the state of the Steelers:

"We're going up. We're getting crisper, starting to work together more. The timing's coming around. We're going up. We're more experienced than in years past and people understand our weaknesses now and know what it takes to improve on them."

Don't other teams also understand the Steelers' weaknesses?

"They think they do," von Oelhoffen said. "Not anymore."

Jim Wexell

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