Staley downgraded

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> Duce Staley was downgraded to questionable for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns. He missed Thursday's practice with an infected big right toe.

The Steelers' leading rusher after back-to-back 100-yard games, Staley had the toe stepped on during last Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Staley rushed for a season-high 123 yards in the win.

He was initially listed as probable with the injury, but upon having fluid drained Staley learned an infection had set it. He had the toenail removed Thursday and therefore missed practice.

"That's why he was downgraded to questionable," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher. "Everything went well. There's a good chance he'll be out practicing (Friday) but all indications are at this point that he should be ready to go by Sunday."

If not, Jerome Bettis would likely make his first start of the season. The NFL's sixth all-time leading rusher has carried only 18 times this season for 22 yards and five touchdowns, but he feels he's ready to play.

"You don't forget how to run," said the 32-year-old Bettis. "If the opportunity comes, I'll take advantage of it.

"Usually I'm a little sore by this point but the body feels good. That's a plus, definitely."

Bettis has had turf toe but never an injured toe itself. Yet, he expects Staley to recover.

"I would expect to see Duce back. I would expect it," Bettis said. "I know if I was in his situation I'd do everything possible to get back. If not we've got to keep going, but I think he'll be there."

Bettis was reminded that Staley was downgraded, which normally is an ominous sign, but Bettis dismissed it.

"Well, I don't know how many times I was downgraded. I was probably downgraded my whole career," he said. "I don't know the situation. I'm just saying I expect to see him."

So does quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

"Duce is a tough guy. If it's possible for him to play he's going to play," Roethlisberger said. "I know he's been in a lot of pain and toes are not easy to play (on) when they're injured. It seems like such a small thing, but a toe injury's a huge deal because you're running around, trying to make cuts. But Duce is a tough guy. If it's possible for him to play he's going to play."

Staley wouldn't comment while limping toward the training room in slippers. In four games this season, he's rushed for 372 yards on 87 carries (4.3 average) in his best first quarter of any of his eight seasons in the league.

Playing with a rookie quarterback, the Steelers will need a productive running game against the Browns, who rank eighth in the NFL against the run. The Browns have allowed 100.8 rushing yards per game while holding Jamal Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens to 57 yards on 20 carries and Clinton Portis of the Washington Redskins to 58 yards on 20 carries.

The most productive runner against the Browns this season has been Tiki Barber of the New York Giants. He rushed for 106 yards on 23 carries.

"Their front four, the defensive line, is very aggressive," said Bettis. "They're very big up front and their interior guys are pretty good at two-gapping. Orpheus Roye was here so we know how good he is. They have a great philosophy in terms of just crowding the line of scrimmage and not letting you run the football."

The Browns have played well even with Courtney Brown playing only two games before going on injured reserve with a Lis Franc foot injury, and with Gerard Warren missing two games with a chest injury. Warren is questionable this week as well.

Staley is eighth in the league in rushing. If he can't play, Bettis will have the opportunity to gain some of the 365 yards he needs to pass Tony Dorsett for fifth place on the all-time rushing list. If Bettis doesn't make up the ground this year, he may not do it since this could be his last season.

"It just depends on how we finish up, how the team finishes up," he said. "I think that's probably the most important piece of the puzzle, because I want to stick around and win a championship. That's the reason that I still want to play."

Would he come back if the team comes close to a championship?

"Possibly," he said. "But always know it's a double-edge sword. I could want to come back and they could not want to have me back. That could easily happen, but I'm not even going to worry about it till the end of the season. If the body feels good at the end of the season, then I'll look at it."

NOTE - Cowher said that Kendrell Bell's surgery to repair a sports hernia was successful and that "it's about the same timetable as I mentioned on Tuesday." Cowher said Bell would miss two weeks and then would be re-evaluated during the bye week. … Troy Polamalu was named winner of the Levitra Play of the Week for his interception return for a touchdown against the Bengals.

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