Staley speaks; Kirschke signs

<b> PITTSBURGH -- </b> Duce Staley didn't mince words when asked how the Steelers won him over in free agency.<br><br> "Just knowing that Coach (Bill) Cowher's committed to running the ball," Staley said. "I've been in three NFC Championship Games where we did not run the ball and we did not get a chance to advance. When I look back, I know that was one of the key factors."

"Of course, getting the touches through the passing game is important, but I know how important it is to run the ball, and these guys do, too."

Staley played in the last three NFC Championship Games, all with the Philadelphia Eagles, who ran the ball 36 percent of the time in three losses.

He joins a team that is coming off its worst rushing season in Cowher's 12 seasons as coach. The Steelers ranked 31st in the league and rushed the ball 44 percent of the time.

"It's truly an honor to be a part of an organization that's committed to winning, that's committed to excellence and for once in my life, Coach (Bill) Cowher, an organization that's committed to running the ball," Staley said.

After spending all seven of his NFL seasons with the intrastate rival Eagles, Staley signed a five-year, $14 million contract Tuesday night that included a $4 million bonus.

Staley will earn base salaries of $660,000 (2004), $2.15 million (2005), $2.5 million (2006), $2.69 million (2007) and $2 million (2008). He'll count $1.46 million against the cap this season, and the cap-strapped Steelers are expected to pay for him by releasing or trading Amos Zereoue, who's due to make $2.2 million this season.

Cowher didn't announce any such plans, but he left Zereoue out of the mix when he said that Staley would "come in here and compete with Jerome (Bettis) and Verron (Haynes)."

Staley has rushed for 4,807 career yards on 1,200 carries (4.0 average). He's also caught 275 passes with an average of 9.1 yards per reception. He's the Eagles' third all-time leading rusher, but started only four games last season after holding out during training camp. He'd regained his job in the playoffs after Brian Westbrook was injured in the regular-season finale. Staley gained 124 yards on 18 carries (6.9 avg.) in two playoff games.

Staley explained that the loss of his starting job last season "is a long story. Actually, Andy (Reid) and I had our differences coming in and he decided to go a different way, and that's what he did. But towards the end we worked our differences out and we were able to move on."

"I'm here now, so that's all that really matters. As far as what went on last year, that's time in the past. I'm looking to turn over a new leaf and move on."

"He's got as good a hands as any back in the league," said Cowher. "The thing I like about him is when you talk to him and players around him, he's very competitive but he's very unselfish. He's been over in Philadelphia and yet when they needed to go to him when it got to playoff time, he was there. He didn't probably like the fact it was a three-man rotation, but he's been through it. Jerome's been through it. I think you got two quality people and I know we've got quality backs.

"There are a lot of things he brings: his professionalism and the way he competes. I don't know if you can surround yourself with enough guys like that. He's a winner. We're out to kind of re-establish that next year."

Staley is a native of Columbia, S.C., and played college football at South Carolina. His agent, Leigh Steinberg, said Tuesday that the Steelers were Staley's favorite team while he was growing up.

"I got a chance to walk past four Super Bowl trophies. That's the closest I've ever been to those trophies," Staley said at the Steelers' practice facility. "Just to see them behind the glass gives me chills also. I'm proud to be a Steeler."

The Steelers followed up the Tuesday signing of Staley by signing defensive tackle Travis Kirschke on Wednesday to a 4 year, 6.4 million that includes a 1.1 million bonus .

A 6-foot-3, 292-pound veteran of seven NFL seasons, Kirschke started 15 games for the San Francisco 49ers last season and led the team's linemen with a career-high 43 tackles. He also had 1.5 sacks.

Kirschke, 29, had spent his previous six seasons with the Detroit Lions and becomes yet another member of that organization to join the Steelers. Former Lions pro personnel director Kevin Colbert and general manager Ron Hughes are currently in the Steelers' front office.

Kirschke was mainly a back-up with the Lions.

The move came one day before the Steelers must make a decision on whether to match a $1.3 million offer sheet defensive end Rodney Bailey had signed with the New England Patriots. If the Steelers don't match the offer by 4 p.m. Thursday, they'll be awarded the Patriots' sixth-round pick in the upcoming draft.

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