Game preview: Staley grouchy about return

<b>LATROBE - </b> Duce Staley, new running back for the Steelers, put the cell phone down long enough to talk to reporters about Thursday night's game against the Philadelphia Eagles.<br><br> He should've kept talking on the phone.<br><br> "It's just another preseason game," said the 2002 Eagles Offensive MVP. "I'm looking to go in and get a little more conditioning, learn the offense more and get more playing time because after this game, we've only got one more and then it's live bullets."

That's all? No point to prove?

"Of course I'm looking forward to the game and I have a lot of friends over there," he said. "I spent a lot of years in Philadelphia, all good years, and I'm looking forward to going back."

Staley spent seven seasons in Philadelphia and was a 1,000-yard rusher three times. Last year, he was part of a three-back rotation and gained only 463 yards.

Because of an injury to Correll Buckhalter and Staley's departure, 205-pound Brian Westbrook is the only one of the three backs still in Philadelphia. The Eagles picked up 34-year-old Dorsey Levens this week. In Levens' last four seasons, he's rushed for 224, 164, 411 and 197 yards. Obviously, the Eagles could use Staley back.

"I don't want to talk about them. That's their problem," Staley said, reaching for the ever-present cell phone again.

Staley probably won't play enough to break a sweat anyway. Steelers coach Bill Cowher has already decided that Staley will be his starting running back. What Cowher needs to learn Thursday at 8 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field is how his back-ups are progressing. Cowher will play the starters for a half, as he did last week, and then will turn to those fighting to make the first cut down to 65 (72 if NFL Europe exemptions are not cut) by Tuesday.

"I feel like a full half at this point is important. I want them to get to playing," Cowher said. "At the same time, we need to evaluate some of the other guys. There are going to be some tough decisions to make in terms of some of these back-up positions. Sometimes you may stick a guy in there early because sometimes you have to take into consideration who they're playing against as well. So we may insert a few players early in the game to see that if what they've done against people in the second halves of games, they can do in the first half against quality people."

Last week, Cowher looked at rookie long-snapper Drew Caylor in the first half instead of veteran Mike Schneck.

Bubble players who may receive early looks include running back Willie Parker, wide receiver Fred Milons, offensive guard Jim Jones, linebacker Adrian Ross, safety Ainsley Battles and cornerback Willie Williams. They are even with or behind players such as running back Dante Brown, wide receiver Lee Mays, rookie linebacker Nathaniel Adibi, safety Russ Stuvaints and cornerback Chidi Iwuoma.

In the case of Jones, he's hoping to force Cowher to keep an extra guard after the loss of Kendall Simmons for the season. Cowher could decide to keep only nine offensive linemen since back-up tackle Todd Fordham and centers Jeff Hartings and Chukky Okobi can all play guard.

Jones received a long look this week in practice as left guard Alan Faneca took a two-day break. Journeyman tackle Barrett Brooks was the second-team left guard this week.

Cowher said Thursday's game will be "a little bit of a gauge, a little bit of a barometer to see where you are. It's a little bit of a hostile environment in Philly. It will be a good setup for us. It's kind of like -- obviously to a lesser degree -- when we go to Baltimore the second game of the season. We're going to a playoff team, a quality football team that has high expectations."

The Steelers' quarterback rotation of Tommy Maddox, rookie Ben Roethlisberger and second-year pro Brian St. Pierre will remain intact.

Injured Steelers who've been ruled out of the game are back-up nose tackle Kendrick Clancy (calf), outside linebacker Clark Haggans (hand) and inside linebacker Kendrell Bell (shoulder/bicep). Haggans practiced this week and should see his first preseason action next Thursday against the Carolina Panthers. Clancy may play in that game as well.

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