Replacing Jerome Bettis

Jerome Bettis is gone but he's not forgotten. He'll need to be replaced on the field and in the locker room.

Duce Staley looked at strike one when he blew off reporters after the first day of minicamp for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It appears that Staley has no intention of replacing Bettis in the locker room, and he may not get the chance to replace him on the field. That honor could go to Verron Haynes.

"I am licking my chops looking forward to the opportunity," said Haynes.

Steelers Coach Bill Cowher and running backs coach Dick Hoak both said after the draft that they plan on giving Haynes every shot at the Bettis role on the field. Cowher even approached Haynes about it.

"Coach Cowher talked about the possibility of widening the workload a little bit," Haynes said. "I am excited about the position that I am in. All three of us are talented enough to do that. We will have a lot of good competition going into camp and that is going to make us all better."

The notion of scoring double-digit touchdowns like Bettis a year ago is appetizing to Haynes.

"I am licking my chops right now, you can see the saliva," Haynes said. "I am definitely excited about it."

The Steelers re-signed Haynes this offseason to a two-year deal. He's shown in the past he can run the ball for tough yards in between the tackles. Most of his career-high 74 carries and 274 yards a season ago came in the fourth quarter of games with the Steelers up big trying to kill the clock.

"Absolutely," he said. "That's one of my biggest attributes. When it's time to grind out the ball in the fourth quarter, when Jerome was resting up and Willie (Parker) was out, I think I've done a good job of that. They had nine and 10 guys in the box knowing we were going to run the ball to be successful."

All but 33 of his carries last year came against five defensive linemen sets, but he was still able to manage to average 4.1 yards per carry and he scored twice against five defensive linemen.

"When I first came into the league I considered myself a running back – a pure, old-school running back who can run, pass protect, catch and get those tough yards," he said. "I consider myself an every-down back, not just a third-down back. That is kind of one of the stigmas that have been on me because that's been a role that I have excelled at so far. With a broader workload I can show I am capable of doing other things well."

The other is taking a leadership role in the locker room with the players, and also the voice of the running backs – something starter Willie Parker and Staley aren't comfortable with.

"Absolutely somebody has to step up," Haynes said. "It is not something that is just in the locker room. Jerome was a leader on and off the field. He was a leader by example. He had an aura and presence about him in the room. He commands respect indirectly and that being said, I think there are a lot of guys that he molded for that job."

Haynes isn't against himself being that guy but also knows that's a role that he can't give himself.

"Jerome never said it was given to him," Haynes said. "He earned it. He never had to talk about it. When you have done it and showed on the field it speaks volumes. It's like nicknames. You don't give yourself nicknames. Same as leadership roles."

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