Bettis will return

Jerome Bettis won't make the Steelers wait until June 1 for his decision about whether he'll return to play in the 2005 season.

Bettis, the NFL's fifth all-time leading rusher, told the Philadelphia Inquirer Friday while in that city for an asthma awareness program that he plans to return for his 13th season.

"My body didn't feel good after the season," he told the newspaper. "I felt pretty rough. It was difficult for me. As the days went by, my body started to recover and I felt better."

Bettis had been considering retirement following the 2004 season in which he led the Steelers with 941 yards and a career-high 13 touchdowns despite starting just six games in place of injured Duce Staley.

Bettis and the Steelers renegotiated his contract in March, lowering his base salary from over $4 million for 2005 to $1.2 million. Despite that, however, Bettis still was unsure he wanted to put his now 33-year-old body through the rigors of another NFL season. He'll also receive a $100,000 workout bonus for his participation in the team's mini-camp.

"My love for the game hadn't wavered," Bettis told the Inquirer. "It was a situation where I'd been doing myself a disservice if I retired, because I wanted to try to win a championship."

The Steelers went a team record 15-1 during the regular season last year, but lost to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

The Steelers begin their offseason voluntary workouts Monday and head coach Bill Cowher has said all along he expects Bettis to take part in them.

"I think his mind-set is he wants to come back," Cowher said during the NFL meetings in Hawaii two weeks ago. "I've been around him for a long time and I have just tremendous respect for his passion that he brings to the game and his dependability. That's a great message for the young players to see."

Bettis' return makes acquiring a running back much less of a concern in this month's NFL draft, which will be held April 23 and 24.

In addition to Bettis, who has rushed for 13,294 career yards, the Steelers also return Staley, third-down back Verron Haynes and second-year player Willie Parker.

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