Backup Plan for a Backup

Backup Plan for a Backup
By Zack Cimini

The Pittsburgh Steelers pride themselves on their ability to control the clock. Controlling the clock can only be accomplished in one way, and that’s by running the football effectively. Fortunately for the Steelers they have been one of the few teams that have been able to count on that on a weekly basis. With Duce Staley’s injury concerns are becoming a bigger problem than anticipated.

Jerome Bettis is going to be asked to do much more. At this stage in his career it may not be in the Steelers best interest to place Bettis in that type of situation. Bill Cowher has always been able to manuever with tricks up his sleeve, and he’ll need to do the same this year. If not, the Steelers without their ground game, could suffer as bad as the Dolphins did without Ricky Williams last season.

Jerome Bettis has said it himself that he wants to be a goal line short yardage running back. That way he can cause the pounding instead of being pounded on. In his younger days he could get away with it because he had more styles to his game. Nowadays his speed is no longer there, and it leaves him as a bullseye target for these pacman linebackers. Last year’s change of events that led to Jerome Bettis raising eyebrows is definitely the last. Those yardage numbers will never occur again, but the touchdown totals could be around until Bettis retires. If and only if the Steelers use their best judgment with Bettis.

Bettis’s durability has dropped off considerably since his bus days. All you have to do is look back to three or four years ago, and see how much he wore down by playoff time. He had groin and other sorts of nagging injuries that prevented him when the playoffs came about.

That was the main reason why the Steelers signed Duce Staley, and for a brief part of last season that was working to perfection. Staley was proving his worth, and Bettis was cashing in on Staley’s big plays. Then Staley started running into knee problems, and they haven’t disappeared since. It has kept him to limited or no action all off-season and preseason. The time table for his return has been projected for mid September, but that could be a long shot. Running backs and knee problems linked together are injuries that truly don’t recover to 100 percent for two complete years. Meaning if Staley does come back he won’t be able to be an every down back.

Suddenly the Steelers now have two guys that are limited to minimal carries, and will need to count on someone else to also share the load. In steps in Vernon Haynes and Willie Parker. Both backs have nice attributes and could be the future of the Steelers backfield. Parker may be the front runner due to his style. He brings a different element to the table, and that is speed. At only 210 pounds, he possesses the shiftiness of a Warrick Dunn as a speed demon. Vernon Haynes on the other hand could be an every down back if needed. When on the field he has demonstrated the whole arsenal that a starting running back should have.

Even if Staley does return and diffuses expected rustiness, age is the next thing to catch up. Staley may have the upper hand on a few extra years than Bettis, but the trail could be seen without a flare. Sooner or later the Steelers will need to make a tough decision, and that could lead to Staley being cut this time next season. Bettis has earned the prowess and respect to retire under his own terms, and it looks like he may make that decision this season.

If the Steelers are going to be deep in the playoffs again this year, expect Haynes or Parker to be a shining catalyst. One way or another, the Steelers will have a new feature back next season, whether it is through the draft or Parker or Haynes.


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