The inflammation in Duce Staley's right knee is swelling into a potentially bigger problem for the Steelers.
The veteran running back is scheduled to undergo an MRI, in an effort to determine the cause of recurring inflammation that required drainage four days ago and has kept him out of contact work since the start of practices last Tuesday.
"He still doesn't feel comfortable," coach Bill Cowher said.
Staley was scheduled to participate in Saturday's lone workout, which featured the highly anticipated goal-line drill, but he was limited to light, non-contact work. Jerome Bettis, who wore an ice bag on his left knee, also sat out to get a day's rest, leaving Verron Haynes and Willie Parker to man the backfield.
Haynes scored just two plays into the first of two goal-line drills on a dive over Pro Bowl left guard Alan Faneca from four yards out. Parker needed just one play to reel off a 5-yard scamper, which he broke off to the outside. Last year, the offense was stopped on eight consecutive goal-line drills.
Of greater interest yesterday, however, was the health of Staley, who sits atop of the depth chart and is expected to carry the load for an offense that ran the ball 61 percent of the time last season.
Cowher has been delicate in his handling of Staley. The nine-year veteran did not participate in the team's run test Monday and has missed the majority of four consecutive practices.
"We're going to be proactive and make sure if there are any problems, that we get it taken care of now," Cowher said. "We want him to be ready for the first game against Tennessee."
Staley has missed parts of two NFL seasons due to injury, though neither were knee related. He sat out six games last fall with a bruised hamstring and 11 games in 2000 with a foot ailment classified as a Lis Franc injury. He later became the first player in NFL history to successful return from a Lis Franc injury.
The Steelers will be careful about pushing Staley to the field too soon. The regular-season opener against Tennessee is still 34 days away.
"Duce is a pro," offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. "He understands what he's doing. He studies. He helps the guys on the field when he's not practicing. I just think it's important that you're smart with Duce. I'd rather have him on the goal line or in the game against Tennessee than I would at Latrobe. So, you just have to be smart."
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