Run game doesn't miss beat

<b>LATROBE --</b> The Steelers aren't exactly running amok, but they're far from being stuck in the muck these days.<br><br> In the first halves of their two preseason games, and minus the 65-yard fake punt by Troy Polamalu, the Steelers have grinded out 158 yards on 41 carries, an average of 3.9 yards per rush.

They gained 98 yards in the first half Saturday night without right guard Kendall Simmons, a blossoming star who tore an ACL in practice and is out for the season.

The results Saturday night were measured with Simmons' loss in mind.

"When you lose a guy like Kendall, it's tough because you have a plan going into the season and you lose an important piece," said Jerome Bettis. "The question is: How do you respond? And I think we responded well."

Bettis in particular responded well. He carried 10 times for 48 yards and a touchdown to top Duce Staley's performance last week of 11 carries for 45 yards and a fumble. The two have alternated starting assignments but it was the 32-year-old Bettis flashing the speed when he barreled 14 yards around left end against the Texans.

Bettis' longest runs last year were 21 and 20 yards, which both occurred in the second half of the season. But he was jokingly asked if that was really him turning the corner Saturday night.

"What? Me? I get to the corner every game. What are you talking about?" he said. "It's so funny because in six months everybody expects me to look prehistoric or something. I mean, last game I played in this stadium I went over 100 yards and I broke a long one. I did it all, so it's not like anything's changed. The minute I can't go out there and give 110 percent and still be effective, then I won't be playing."

Yet, Bettis was worried enough about his situation with the Steelers that he took a salary cut in the off-season.

"I took a salary cut because I just wanted to play football," he said. "That doesn't have anything to do with my ability. If that was the case, then you say 'Let me go someplace else.' I just didn't want to leave. That's plain and simple. I mean, I love this place; I love this city. I just wanted to stay here. But that does not mean my ability is not worth more than that. I'll show that I'm worth my weight in gold."

Bettis was worth his weight in blue and gold Saturday night. That's what his back-up, Verron Haynes, saw in the former Notre Dame star.

"Hey, the old slim 6 is back. It looked like the old No. 6," Haynes said of Bettis' college number. "Man, he hit the corners. I haven't seen him do that in awhile. He looked impressive."

Haynes also ran well. The third-year player quadrupled his workload from the previous week by rushing 8 times for 31 yards. Haynes also caught a short pass and broke a tackle for a 21-yard gain to set up a field goal late in the first half. He'd capped the previous drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.

"I want playing time," said Haynes. "I worked hard all off-season and I just want an opportunity to showcase what I can do."

Along with working out five days a week with personal fitness trainers, Haynes hired the boxing trainer of last year's NFL rushing leader, Jamal Lewis, and Haynes is certain it has helped. "I've got more wind. I'm looking quicker, more explosive," he said. "That stiff arm out there, that's the boxing. I'm telling you, that's the boxing."

Haynes was asked if it's "a good thing" that he's not being used at fullback anymore.

"A great thing, a great thing," he said. "But, I do know it just in case. In this league, the more you can do, the more versatile you can be, it's a better situation for you."

The backs in the second half provided the Steelers with more fireworks. In Detroit, Dante Brown ripped off a 22-yard touchdown run. Against Houston, Willie Parker went around left end for a 25-yard touchdown run.

"The linemen did a great job opening up the holes; J.T. Wall blocked well," Haynes said. "The rest is easy. You just run."

Simmons' replacement at right guard, Keydrick Vincent, played well against Gary Walker, the Texans' best and most experienced defensive lineman.

"I came to play this year," said Vincent. "We're trying to win and I'm going to do whatever it takes to win and I don't care who it is. I'm going to do the best of my ability."

The tackle to Vincent's right, the much-maligned Oliver Ross, had an even better game.

"Oliver's always been a decent tackle," Vincent said. "Y'all media just like bashing him. You have to understand, we were on the scout team and stuff together for awhile. We took a lot of reps together, so we're comfortable with each other."

It was obvious Saturday night.

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