Jerome Bettis crossed his fingers for good luck Monday, in hopes that backfield mate Duce Staley will recover from a torn lateral meniscus of the right knee in time for the season opener Sept. 11 against Tennessee.
But if Staley's rehab is slow, The Bus said he's ready to "rock."
"When I made the decision to come back, I made it based on me being able to go 16 weeks," said Bettis, 33, who contemplated retirement this off-season after running for 941 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. "That was the goal."
The goal for the Steelers is to have Staley ready for the opener in 33 days at Heinz Field, though they won't push him as long as Bettis is available. Staley underwent arthroscopic surgery yesterday, and the procedure revealed the torn lateral (outside) meniscus in his right knee.
Lateral meniscus tears often do not require surgery beyond arthroscopy. Surgeons either remove the torn tissue or make a repair during the arthroscopic procedure. Steelers Orthopedist Dr. James Bradley performed the surgery on Staley yesterday morning in Pittsburgh.
Staley returned to St. Vincent College last night to begin a rehabilitation program.
"The prognosis right now is a month," coach Bill Cowher said of Staley, who's missed parts of three of the past five seasons due to injuries, none knee related. "We're hopeful that we'll have him by the beginning of the season. We feel good about the long-term situation for Duce."
Staley had no issues with the knee in the offseason, according to Cowher. The 30-year-old back began experiencing discomfort after the team's first full practice last Tuesday, when the knee swelled. Staley had the knee drained the following day and has not participated in contact work since. By Saturday, Cowher said Staley "didn't feel right," so the next step was an MRI, then the arthroscopic procedure.
"There were some arthritic changes in there, and Dr. Bradley had to clean some of that out," Cowher said. "It was as good as could be expected. We've ruled out any microfracture (which caused Charlie Batch to miss all of last season) or any of that stuff."
Staley is expected to carry the load for the Steelers this season, but his injury gives way to Bettis, and, to a lesser extent, backups Willie Parker, Verron Haynes and rookie Noah Herron for the time being.
Bettis said last week he was comfortable playing the role of backup, but he proclaimed yesterday that he could carry the team for as long as needed. Asked if he's capable of toting the ball 250 times, like he did last year, the 13-year veteran didn't hesitate.
"If they need it," he said. "If they need 300, I can do it."