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Old 08-21-2006, 04:12 AM   #1
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Default Rusty Duce Is Happy To Carry The Load

By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It is not about the yards for Duce Staley. At least, not now. Those will come in the regular season, when it matters, when he plays behind the first offensive line, when he picks and leans and jump-steps into a hole, displaying an uncanny art for almost never losing yardage.

The preseason is two games old for the Steelers, who are 0-2 after a 17-10 loss Saturday to the Minnesota Vikings at Heinz Field, but, to Staley, the losses must seem like victories.

Not only has Staley, a 10th-year running back, played in each preseason game, something he didn't get to do last year because of a knee injury. But, after two games, he leads the team with 12 carries, which is 12 more than he had in the entire preseason in 2005.

"I think I'm getting there," Staley said. "The more reps you get, your timing is starting to come back and you're starting to get that feel. Things are starting to come back to me and that's what it's about."

The Steelers certainly hope so.

Staley enters his third season with the team after he was signed in free agency from the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004, and each year has wrought a different subplot.

He was brought in as the feature back over Jerome Bettis in 2004, and averaged 101 yards per game in his first seven games of the regular season before sustaining a hamstring injury. He appeared in only three more games and eventually lost his starting job to Bettis, who rushed for more than 100 yards in seven of the next nine games.

Last year, Staley came to training camp as the No. 1 back, but he had knee surgery the first week and never played in the preseason. Both he and Bettis, who also had a knee injury, lost the starting job to Willie Parker, who rushed for 272 yards in his first two games and never looked back.

Now Staley finds himself as something more than just Parker's backup and Bettis' replacement. He is trying to recapture his timing, his feel for the game, for the hole, after playing in just four games in 2005.

"It's almost like learning everything all over again," Staley said after carrying five times for 11 yards against the Vikings. "The preseason is very important to me after missing the preseason last year. Being hurt, not really having the time to get your timing with the line, with the receivers, the quarterbacks, the fullbacks, that's why it's imperative I go through preseason and play every game.

"Things are looking up. Of course, there are some things I know I can do better, and that's what the film is for. I'm going to go back and assess my play on film, but, right now, I'm pretty happy with how things are going. All I can do is look up and continue to get better."

Staley's numbers after two games are certainly not the type that offer great promise -- 12 carries, 25 yards, just 2.1 yards per attempt -- but the former 1,000-yard rusher is not concerned about that.

He wants to be ready for the regular season, unlike last year, and he wants to show people he is capable of doing what he did two years ago when he rushed for 707 yards in the first seven games of the regular season.

But he also wants to prove he can play without injury, something he has been unable to avoid the past two seasons. Since being acquired by the Steelers, Staley has been inactive for 17 games, not counting playoffs, more than he did in seven seasons in Philadelphia (13).

"It's definitely tough to miss all those games," Staley said. "You think you can jump right back in and your timing is there. But it's not like that. That's what the preseason games are for. This is one year where I can say I'm happy we have as many [preseason games] as we do because it's definitely going to help me get my timing back for the season."

Staley was asked if he has anything to prove.

"I think I do," he said. "I think I got a lot to prove to myself. I got to go out there and stay confident, go out there and make sure mentally I'm focused, mentally I'm strong enough, to go out there and handle the things I can control on the field. I need to go out there and not try to do too much, go out there and see what I can do. That's important."

And get a few more carries in the preseason.
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