Bettis backs Staley

Jerome Bettis thinks Duce Staley is the answer to the Steelers' running back situation.

The Pittsburgh Steelers coaches and scouts will spend time at the draft combine in Indianapolis this week looking for possible replacements for retired running back Jerome Bettis.

But Bettis said they already have his replacement under contract.

Speaking via conference call Monday afternoon about his new job as a studio analyst for NBC's Sunday night football games, Bettis said veteran Duce Staley is the natural choice to pick up his carries next season as Willie Parker's backup.

"I really believe he's got a lot left in the tank," said Bettis of Staley, who played in just five games last season, making one start when Parker and Bettis were injured.

The question is: Do the Steelers believe that as well? Staley, signed in 2004 to a five-year, $14-million contract, will see his base salary jump from $650,000 in 2005 to $2.5 million in 2006. The Steelers will likely ask him to take a pay cut in 2006. And considering Staley's played in just 22 of the past 31 games, he might be inclined to do so rather than test his luck on the open market if released.

Staley opened the 2004 season as the starting running back and was averaging more than 100 yards per game in his first seven starts before a hamstring injury sidelined him. Staley sat for the next month and came back to finish the season by sharing time with Bettis in the backfield.

He reported to training camp last summer with a torn meniscus in his right knee that required surgery, forcing him to miss camp and preseason.

That opened the door for Parker, who won the job and gained 1,202 yards. With Parker starting, Bettis serving as the short-yardage back, and Verron Haynes, who is an unrestricted free agent, working on third downs, there wasn't much need for Staley this season.

Bettis, however, said that much of the reason for that was because Staley went to head coach Bill Cowher and told him he'd take a back seat to Bettis.

"Nobody knows this but he told Coach Cowher, ‘When I am 100 percent, if there is a question about who plays, I want Jerome to play because this is probably his last year,"' Bettis said. "For him to do that amid a lot of criticism he was going to take, that was a very unselfish approach that he took."

Staley did have 76 yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries in his only start, a 20-10 win at Green Bay when Parker and Bettis were nursing injuries. For the season, he gained 148 yards on 38 carries and caught six passes for 34 yards.

Courtesy of the Observer-Reporter

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