Old man Bettis rolling along

LATROBE – Baby girl Jada Bettis was born six months ago, and the early word is she has quick feet and great vision.

Good genetics, scouts are saying.

Of course, they're saying the same about her daddy, Jerome. There could be no other explanation for this freak of nature, since he STILL has the quickest feet on the field.

"I feel good. I really do," said Bettis, who looks good. He really does.

Bettis is running first team with the Steelers with Duce Staley out, and he looks much better than he did in the spring, when Bettis could barely walk up a flight of stairs.

For a guy who'd considered retirement last winter, he certainly ambled around the team's practice facility on the South Side like someone who probably should.

"I had a partial tear in my quadricep," Bettis said. "We found out after the season was over. It bothered me, but it was something I played through and managed. After the season I got it looked at. They saw swelling in there."

So Bettis took some time off to recover, but time wasn't a healer. The leg continued to give him trouble, so he went back to the doctor in March and they found the tear.

"I had to work through that," he said. "It was probably so good that I didn't go through that mini-camp and some of the coaching sessions early because it gave me a chance to really get healthy. So coming here, it's not been a problem. It's felt good; it bounced back. I feel good, so that's really, really been a blessing."

Bettis, of course, relieved an injured Staley last season and gained 810 yards (4.1 average0 in the final eight regular-season games. He moved up to fifth on the NFL's all-time rushing list with 13,294 yards and is third on the all-time carries list with 3,369 yards.

At the age of 33, and with that heavy workload beginning to take its toll, Bettis contemplated retirement, but opted to return to chase that elusive championship ring. He figured he could ease into this season as Staley took on the brunt of the workload. However, with Staley having missed the last three practices with an inflamed knee, Bettis may have to take on the load earlier than expected.

"I hope not," he said. "That's not MY plan. No, it just depends on Duce's health. Hopefully he'll be healthy and ready to go and I'll be right there as his biggest cheerleader, just supporting him and (being) ready to back him up. And if it calls for me to go out there and carry the load then I'll just put the hard hat on and go back to doing what I've been doing my whole career."

Bettis's trademark has been a combination of size, vision and quick feet. So, in looking over the checklist:

  • He weighed in at 256 pounds and within a week is down to his customary 251.

  • He's not wearing glasses, so his vision's fine.
  • He's flashing those quick feet that have allowed him to avoid the punishment most big backs can't.
  • "He still has the good feet and he's in shape right now. He looks good," said linebacker Joey Porter.

    So why wouldn't Bettis want to carry the load early?

    "Because I wouldn't be able to finish," he said. "And in this business it's not how you start, but how you finish. I would rather be there in the end than the beginning. I know physically it would be very, very difficult for me to at this stage of my career start week one and go to week 16 and still be as effective as I was in week one. I'm just being more realistic at this stage."

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