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|12-10-2006, 08:18 AM||#1|
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Bouchette: Inside the team, issues and questions
Ed Bouchette on the Steelers: A weekly look inside the team, the issues, the questions
Sunday, December 10, 2006
From the highs to the lows to the end of the National Football League show with Duce Staley
The Duce Staley fiasco ended Monday, one year too late. It will go down as one of the more curious examples of poor evaluating of veteran talent under Bill Cowher's coaching tenure.
There was nothing wrong with signing Staley as an unrestricted free agent from the Eagles in 2004. Jerome Bettis had turned 32 that February and his production had slipped to 666 yards in 2002 and 811 in '03.
Staley's presence helped the 2004 Steelers become the only team in AFC history to a 15-1 record in two ways. He rushed for 707 yards in his first seven games. And then, when his hamstring was injured and he could barely play in the second half of the season, Jerome Bettis ran for six 100-yard games, perhaps his aging legs aided because Staley kept him on the sideline for most of the first seven games.
(An aside to the Staley story: Bettis always will remember Pittsburgh with affection, but he never will forget fans booing him as he came onto the field to replace Staley in goal-line situations. Back then, the home crowd chanted Duuuuuuuce, and the popular complaint of the day was why the Steelers let Staley do all the work and have Bettis enter the game on the 3 to get the glory of the touchdown.)
Staley carried only 41 times over the final nine games of the 2004 season, six of which he was inactive -- a term that would ultimately define his three seasons with the Steelers.
There were some in the organization who thought Staley should not have been on the 2005 team. He came to training camp competing to regain his starting job with Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker, but knee surgery in the first week took him out of that. The surgery made him inactive the first two games. Parker won the job, Bettis again became the backup and the Steelers went on to win a Super Bowl.
Staley was active for only five games in 2005, but two of those would have a lasting impact on Cowher: Parker was injured early in a Nov. 6 game at Green Bay and, with Bettis out with an injury, the Steelers turned to Staley. He carried 15 times for 76 yards and a touchdown and the Steelers won an ugly game, 20-10.
As Cowher noted Tuesday, if the Steelers don't have Staley for that game they probably do not win it, and if they do not win it there would have been no Super Bowl.
Staley started the following week against Cleveland, gained 64 yards on 17 carries and the Steelers beat the Browns.
That was his last hurrah in Pittsburgh. Staley carried six more times after that. He was inactive for the final four games, then the first three playoffs. Cowher dressed him for the Super Bowl, but he did not play.
Come March, Staley agreed to reduce his salary by $1 million to $1.5 million. With the retirement of Bettis, Cowher believed Staley could take his place as the backup to Parker and as the goal-line back. The Steelers pursued no one in free agency.
But there was enough concern late in April that the Steelers talked about a trade with Atlanta for big back T.J. Duckett on the first day of the draft. That fell through when the Falcons demanded a third-round pick, and the Steelers did not draft a back until their final pick when they chose Cedric Humes of Virginia Tech.
There was concern about Staley's ability in spring drills, and then in training camp he was terrible. Whatever he might have had as a running back was gone. He no longer had the pop in his legs. As one person explained it, he had hit the wall as an NFL running back.
Instead of releasing him, Cowher kept him on the roster even though it was obvious that John Kuhn, a rookie free agent from Shippensburg University in 2005 who had spent the last part of that season on the practice squad, had surpassed him.
Once Staley was on the roster for the first game of the season, NFL rules required the Steelers to pay his full salary. Staley was active for one game -- the opener against Miami, when he entered for one play and did not carry the ball.
Cowher finally released him Monday when Cowher needed to add two players to the roster. Cowher referred to Staley as a good running back who could still be productive in the league and explained that he was inactive for 11 of his 12 games because he did not play special teams.
It was a nice gesture by Cowher and also baloney. Bettis never played on a kicking team while he was the backup in 2004 and '05.
The coach also praised Staley for accepting his "role" the past two years, when he collected about $3.6 million for doing little. But what message did it send the rest of the team this summer when every player in Latrobe could see that Staley no longer had it yet he was kept on the roster?
The Steelers signed halfback Najeh Davenport, released by Green Bay, the day after their opener against Miami, and Cowher kept Staley prowling the sideline in a sweat suit for the next 11 games until his release Monday.
Be prepared to ring in the New Year in Paul Brown Stadium ... literally
When making plans for New Year's Eve, Steelers fans should prepare to do it with the Steelers' final game at Cincinnati in mind, if they are so inclined. Now scheduled for 1 p.m., there's a good chance that NBC will switch that game to a night kickoff.
Throughout this first season of the "flex" schedule, NBC was required to pick its nationally televised Sunday night game 12 days before it was scheduled. However, in that final week the network can wait until six days before making its decision -- Christmas Day.
And this just in: After switching next Sunday's game between Miami and Buffalo to 4:05 p.m., the NFL last week switched it back to a 1 p.m. kickoff.
"We spoke to CBS and told them we did not believe the shift to a later start time was in the fans' best interest," a league spokesman said. "We regret the inconvenience that we may have caused fans who are planning to attend the game or watch on television that day."
Right. It wasn't in the fans' best interests, but the fact that game no longer interests CBS enough to be broadcast late that afternoon.
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