A look at the running backs

The Steelers ended last season with a pathetic average of 3.3 yards per carry and 93 rushing yards per game. Both totals were by far the lowest the team has put up since Bill Cowher became head coach in 1992. <br><br> And unhappy with their running back situation, the Steelers looked at several different options before signing Duce Staley, considered the best running back on the free agent market, to a five-year, $14 million contract.

Amos Zereoue, who began last season as the team's starting running back, was released, while Jerome Bettis, who took the job away from Zereoue a few games into the season, had his contract restructured and will return for one more season.

Cowher has said repeatedly that Staley and Bettis will compete for the starting position, but remember he also said the same thing last season and handed Zereoue the starting job before the team ever lined up for a preseason game.

Take this to the bank: Staley will be the Steelers' starting running back when they break camp.

Cowher is being respectful to Bettis, who has climbed into the top 10 on the NFL's all-time rushing list, by telling him he still has a shot to start. But the idea will be to give Staley between 15 and 20 carries per game, while Bettis spells him on occasion and also plays in a short-yardage package, getting five to 10 carries per contest.

Staley is the best receiving back the Steelers have had since John L. Williams was their fullback and led the team in receptions in 1994. He'll also play extensively as the team's third-down back, though Verron Haynes will also get some looks in that package.

Those three spots and that of fullback Dan Kreider are set heading into the team's training camp. But the Steelers will keep at least one and maybe even two other running backs on their roster this season.

Heading into his second training camp, Dante Brown needs to show he can catch the ball out of the backfield and also contribute on special teams if he's going to make this team again this season.

Fullback J.T. Wall, a seventh-round pick in last year's draft, could lock up a spot if the team decides to let tight end/fullback Matt Cushing leave. The 5-11, 261-pound Wall would also need Brown to have a sub-par camp.

Former Syracuse fullback Darryl Kennedy seems a little undersized at 5-11 and 230 pounds isn't much of a prospect at that position, but was a standout special teams player in college, while Willie Parker couldn't win a starting job at North Carolina and was brought in to look at as a return man.

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