When no plan's a plan

PITTSBURGH – Dick Hoak took in the question and made the face of a man looking for a chaser to wash down the cheap whiskey.

"That's all blackboard talk," he said of the old Bam Morris-Erric Peagram one-two punch and how it compares to Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker.

"Guys say, ‘We're going to punish him with this guy and then this guy's going to come in with the speed and they're not going to be ready for him,'" Hoak said. "But I don't buy that."

Hoak has been the running backs coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1972. He of course remembers the backfield duo of Morris and Pegram in 1995. They were the one-two running punch behind the Steelers' last Super Bowl appearance.

The thinking that year, among media and fans, was that the 237-pound Morris softened the defense with body blows and the 195-pound Pegram jabbed with quickness. Was that just a case of the media type-casting those roles for the sake of a story?

"Oh, I think it was," said Hoak. "I mean, whoever's in the game you defend that guy. It might make it harder to prepare for two different types, but you know they're going to be in there at one time or another."

Then an evil thought crossed Hoak's mind.

"Why don't you change backs every other down?" he said. "Boy, you'd really (mess) them up."

Obviously, Hoak can be sarcastic, but he veered back on track.

"There is some validity to it, but we don't think of it that way: punish them with this guy and put the speed guy in; or, now we've got the speed guy in and when we take him out they're going to still be playing outside because Jerome's in the game. No. They still know Jerome's going to pound up inside."

So Bettis couldn't tire out a defense to allow Parker more running room?

"I'll tell you what makes them tired," Hoak said. "You possess the ball for 30-some minutes and they'll get tired."

Hoak has no specific plan to utilize the 260-pound Bettis and the lightening-quick Parker in any game. Parker starts and leads the Steelers with 539 yards on 113 carries (4.8 avg.). Bettis has 114 yards on 34 carries (3.4). But other than the first series, neither knows how or when they'll be used.

"It's about situations in the game mostly," Hoak said. "If we get down by the red zone, I stick Jerome in there. If we're out by the 50-yard line, I'd rather have Willie in there because Willie can score from the 50. When you get down to the 20-yard line and in, Jerome can score from there. It's kind of a rotation, but a lot of it's done by situation, too.

"You know, a lot of it is trying to keep them fresh in the game. If one has a lot of carries, you get him out and put somebody else in. That's kind of the way we're working it. Verron (Haynes) is the guy who's in on third downs."

And that leaves Duce Staley out in the cold. Not that he's complaining.

Staley had every opportunity to complain yesterday in an interview, but stuck to this theme: "I understand the rules of the game," Staley said, "and I understand what's going on. We're a team. We played as a team for the last two years. I'm a team player."

But isn't it an odd situation?

"Yeah. It's definitely odd," Staley said. "But I can see what's going on and I just have to wait for my shot to get in there and do what I do."

Hoak was asked if Staley might replace Haynes as the third-down back.

"There are some little nuances there that Verron does well," Hoak said. "Duce just has to stay ready because before the year's over we're going to need Duce. Something's going to happen because that's a high-risk position, running back. You're either blocking or you're carrying the ball and you're a marked guy. Sooner or later we're going to need Duce. He understands the situation, that we can't have four of them up. I'd like to have all four of them up but you can't do that. And he understands the situation."

Yes, back to the situation: Why start Parker over Bettis?

"Coming out of training camp, once Jerome got hurt, Willie was the only healthy guy we had going in," Hoak said. "He started the first two games and ran for 100 yards. What do you want me to do? Take him out and put him on the bench? You can't do that. He seized the opportunity and he ran with it. If something would happen, Jerome would be the starter. Either way, they're both going to play and they're both going to get a lot of carries."

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