Thursday, September 14, 2006
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Duce Staley does not understand why the Steelers keep signing running backs to try to do a job he feels fully capable of handling.
One week ago, it was undrafted rookie Patrick Cobbs, acquired in a trade with New England. Now, it's veteran Najeh Davenport, signed off the scrap heap Friday after Green Bay released him.
"It's part of the business," Staley said yesterday after practice. "I can't really sit here and say I've never seen it before because I have. It's part of the business, and that's something that's going to be done whether I like it or not."
All he wants, he said, is the chance to show he can still cut it at age 31. It's something, he said, he cannot do in practice. He says he still has the zip in his legs required for a successful running back in the NFL.
"Oh, yeah, I know I do; I know I do. It's all about opportunity, to get in there and prove that. You and I can sit here and talk about it back and forth forever, but, until you get a chance to get out there on the field in real live action with the first team, you won't know.
"In practice, you work on angles, you work on plays that you're trying to put in for that week, but, as far as going against the first team all-out, we're not going to do that. We're not going to have the type of practice we're going to have in camp. Only games can simulate that, therefore you won't be able to prove that in practice."
Staley agreed in March to take a $1 million cut in salary to $1.5 million this season. Once he was on the roster for the first game, he was on their books to make his entire salary in 2006 no matter what. Yet the Steelers, by their very actions and sometimes words, show they do not think he is the man to fill the role vacated when Jerome Bettis retired: Backup to starter Willie Parker with some running on the goal line thrown in.
They signed Davenport, who stands 6 feet 1 and weighs 247 pounds, to do that job.
"He's a proven big back," coach Bill Cowher said Tuesday. "We were kind of looking for that. ... Looking at our football team, the ability to get Najeh and what he's done, I've watched him play and I think he fits what we're looking for."
Staley rushed for 707 yards in his first seven games with the Steelers in 2004. He missed most of last season after knee surgery, but helped them win their game against Green Bay with 76 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries after Parker was hurt in the first quarter.
The coaches counted on him handling the Bettis role this season, but were disappointed with his training camp practices. Cowher gave Staley by far more runs than anyone in preseason games, 42 compared to John Kuhn's No. 2 rank at 18. Staley gained 92 yards (2.2 average) with a long run of 6 yards.
He made it into one play Thursday against Miami as a blocker in the backfield on a pass. Cowher said Davenport could dress Monday night, which would leave Staley inactive in all likelihood.
"I'm not here to sit and talk bad about it or say anything bad about it," Staley said, promising he will cause no problems. "What I am here to do is help my teammates win. Having a negative attitude won't get the job done. So I'm going to stay positive, and things will work themselves out."