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Notebook: Bettis rooting for Staley

Notebook: Bettis rooting for Staley

<b>LATROBE -</b> Jerome Bettis is involved in a camp battle for the starting tailback position with newcomer Duce Staley, but Bettis doesn't consider it a fight to the death. In fact, he doesn't even consider it a competition. <br><br>"They just decided not to give him the football," Bettis said of Staley's problems last year in Philadelphia. "It's just a matter of getting the football. Hopefully, in this offense he gets the football more." <br><br>Say what?

"Yeah," Bettis told a group of reporters. "What you guys have to understand is this is not going to be a competitive situation. We both are going to have to play. I mean, if we're going to be 13-3, odds are we're going to be leading the league in rushing and time of possession. So that means we're going to have maybe 70-75 snaps a game. Of that 75, we should run the ball 35-40 times a game. With that being said, you can understand there's going to be plenty of football for both of us.

"If we're going to be successful, both of us are going to play well. That's what it boils down to. If we're not good, it means we didn't produce."

Last year, Bettis and Amos Zereoue combined to average 23.6 carries per game and each averaged 3.3 yards per carry behind a banged-up offensive line. Zereoue, the starter out of training camp, wasn't the right back for a line that was in a constant state of flux, but Bettis didn't say a word. He bided his time and eventually took the brunt of the carries.

"With Duce though it's different," Bettis said. "Duce is a bigger running back. If the offensive line is playing on the edge, he's going to be able to be more physical. He'll be able to move the pile a little bit more in those tough times."

Bettis is entering his 12th NFL season and his 12,353 career yards rank sixth all-time.

"My drive is such that I don't feel I'm finished," he said. "I still feel I've got life in me and I want to continue. I haven't proven everything I need to prove."

POWER GAME

Coach Bill Cowher was thinking along with Bettis yesterday when he said, "We've got to get back to being a very physical football team and we've got to practice that way."

To that end, Cowher's first team drill yesterday was a 9-on-7 drill in which the seven-man offense attempted to find running room against the 9-man defense.

"All that stuff in the spring is nothing!" Cowher shouted as the units lined up. "That was flag football! THIS is football!"

Perhaps the best running play of the drill was a 25-yard touchdown run by Verron Haynes off a lead block from fullback J.T. Wall.

"I'd rather have players out here blocking the wrong man or being in the wrong gap or doing what they're not supposed to be doing, but doing it aggressively," Cowher said afterward. "That's how we're going to start practicing. We need to re-establish that. It was a good start. It's got to be that way every time we put the pads on."

Cowher added: "The offensive guys are starting to get a little testy. That's good. It's the way this camp is going to be."

ONE ARM SHY OF A LOAD

As of 7 o'clock last night, first-round draft pick Ben Roethlisberger hadn't reached an agreement with the Steelers, even though his agent, Leigh Steinberg, was in town.

Roethlisberger isn't expected to play this season, but Cowher is anxious to have him in camp.

"Every one of these practices is so important, especially for young players," he said. "(They need) to get acclimated to systems, to feel comfortable, to get a chance to express their abilities because some of the veterans, you know what they are. It's the young guys who have to stand out and make an impression, just like we had a couple linebackers today that looked impressive. They've got to find a way to catch somebody's eye and that's true with any young players."

Those young linebackers, Cowher admitted later, are rookie free agents Nick McNeil and Dedrick Roper. As for the quarterbacks, Cowher wants Roethlisberger to catch up on the practices, but he also wants a fourth arm in camp.

"At some point we're going to have to look at that," Cowher said. "I'm not ready to make any decision on that today but it's going to be looked at on a daily basis to see where we are in negotiations."

INJURY BUG

Back-up nose tackle Kendrick Clancy injured his calf yesterday during one-on-one drills and will miss at least two weeks. Cowher called it "pretty significant … he popped it." Also missing practices yesterday were tight end Robert Blizzard and safety Shane Walton with minor injuries.

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