Steelers tailback Duce Staley said it's realistic he'll be available for the season opener Sept. 11 against Tennessee at Heinz Field.
But that doesn't mean he would start or even do the bulk of the running, if he played at all.
"I'm not going to be in shape to probably go out there and finish a whole game, but I just want to be able to contribute," Staley said Monday as he exited the indoor training facility moments after watching practice in shorts and a T-shirt.
Signed last season to be the teams feature back, Staley underwent arthroscopic surgery Aug. 8 to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee. He was projected to miss a month while rehabbing the injury, which means he'd be back sometime next week, barring any setbacks.
Coach Bill Cowher said Staley remains on schedule, though Cowher will not rush the veteran back into the lineup. Staley is too valuable, as evidenced by a fast start last season that saw him accumulate 707 yards in his first seven games before sustaining a hamstring injury.
"I'd be hesitant to start a guy like Duce who has not had much practice time at all," Cowher said. "You'd like to have him available if needed, but I think the plan right now, if Jerome (Bettis) can't go, well go with Verron (Haynes) and Willie (Parker)."
The Steelers' running game is depleted, with Staley still rehabbing and Bettis possibly out of the Tennessee game with a strained right calf. Cowher said yesterday that Bettis would be listed as doubtful for the opener, which commences 16 days from now.
If Bettis cant go, then second-year back Parker would be the starter. Staley likely would be an emergency back.
"I don't know my role, I'm not the coach," Staley said. "I know as far as (conditioning goes), it's kind of hard to get in a full year's shape in two weeks. So, however I can contribute, I'd be happy to."
Staley has been running in a pool the past two weeks, but he's not sure how that will transfer when he steps onto the field. He assured that he won't participate in any games until he completes a full week of practice.
His biggest concern is coming back too soon and risking a setback. That's why he is uncertain as to when he'll return to practice. He couldn't even offer a firm answer when asked how close he is to getting back onto the field.
"I don't know until I get out there, he said. "I can't tell you anything. I can go out there and (struggle), and that can set me back. Who knows? I just have to continue to believe in what I'm doing and go from there."
He added, "I definitely feel I'm on schedule."
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