Amos and Jay are in

<b>LATROBE – </b> He doesn't normally keep demoted veterans around, but it appears as if Steelers Coach Bill Cowher will do so this year after he named Amos Zereoue and Jay Riemersma the team's opening-day starters at halfback and tight end, respectively.

It means that the NFL's 10th all-time leading rusher, Jerome Bettis, will join the second team, along with Mark Bruener, the team's No. 1 pick in 1995 and seven-time opening-day starter. Cowher, though, believes both players will contribute this season.

"We are going to use our running backs the same way we have the last couple of years," said Cowher. "We are going to utilize them both and keep them fresh throughout the year. We are going to start the season with Amos with no preconceived thoughts coming in and whoever is running best will continue to play. We feel Jay Riemersma has had a good camp and we feel he gives us something in the passing game as well."

Cowher told all involved parties of his decision Monday night and reported that they all took it professionally.

"He was disappointed," Cowher said of Bettis. "And he has accepted it as you know he would. He and Mark Bruener are proud players and have been integral parts of this team and will continue to be and their roles are a little bit different heading into the season. If a change needs to be made, then it will be made. That goes for every position."

The move at tight end will have little effect on Bruener, who'll be needed because he's a much better blocker than Riemersma, who was added to provide a deep threat down the middle in order to loosen the double teams on the wide receivers.

Bettis, on the other hand, may have more difficulty finding his niche. Many expect Bettis to carry the ball to run out the clock in game-closing situations, but most teams can't get away with running the ball to kill the clock in today's game. Bettis may only play if Zereoue proves ineffective.

Cowher, of course, doesn't see it that way.

"They both are going to play," he said. "This is not like a quarterback situation where you can't keep going back and forth with quarterbacks. That creates some disruption with your offense at some point.

"When talking about running backs, you can easily change running backs. They have different styles and they can do certain things better, but it's a situation that it was more of a gut feel and hopefully we can have them fresh in November and December. Hopefully, this way they'll be fresh the entire season."

Bettis, unlike Zereoue, won't be able to pick up carries as the team's third-down back. Cowher was asked about that role.

"Verron Haynes has done a good job and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala has done that in the past," Cowher said. "Amos will still have the opportunity, but I do like Verron Haynes and the things he has been doing."

Zereoue led the Steelers in rushing last season with 762 yards on 193 carries (3.9 average) after Bettis was slowed by a knee injury. Bettis finished with his lowest total since joining the Steelers in 1996 with 666 yards on 187 carries (3.6). He did, however, lose 15 pounds in the off-season and appears on the verge of a bounce-back season.

None of the backs, however, has had much success this preseason. Undrafted rookie Dante Brown leads the team with 69 yards on nine carries (7.7). He gained 38 yards on his first carry. Haynes is next with 57 yards on 13 carries (4.4). Bettis has 24 on 11 carries and Zereoue has 18 on six carries.

The leading receiver out of the backfield has been Haynes, with seven catches for 76 yards to lead the team in both categories.

Jim Wexell
SteelCitySports.com

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