Thursday, April 28, 2005

Ed Bouchette: Chad Brown Says He wants to Return

Agent expects contract talks soon
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers want to sign veteran linebacker Chad Brown, and he said he wants to come here in the worst way, but there remains one small matter standing between them: A contract.

Yet Brown sounded as if he would take less money to rejoin the Steelers than he might elsewhere.

"The level of interest is very high," Brown said during his visit with the team yesterday. "It's tough to replicate the Steelers' experience anyplace else. This is a very special place to play, and to come full circle and end my career here would be awesome."
Brown met with the coaches, and the Steelers' medical staff evaluated him. A three-time Pro Bowler, he battled several injuries the past three seasons, including a broken fibula and a knee injury that limited him to seven games last season with Seattle, but he finished the year healthy.

Brown, who turns 35 in July, was released by Seattle last week after he declined to take a salary cut from $4.2 million to $1 million. He visited the New England Patriots Monday and Tuesday. The Steelers drafted him in the second round in 1993, and he became a starter at inside linebacker and outside, where he had 13 sacks in 1996 before signing with Seattle as a free agent.
The Steelers start Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter and Clark Haggans on the outside, but Brown said he'd be willing to play any role for them.

"I don't want to end my career at a place that's rebuilding for the future," Brown said. "I want to end my career at a place that has an opportunity to really win some games and make some noise in the playoffs.

"I was in Seattle for eight years and have three playoff losses to show for it. I need some playoff victories and, hopefully, a Super Bowl victory to round out this game that has given me so much."
Seattle wants to re-sign him. Brown will visit New Orleans next, and Denver also has an interest. Pete Schaffer, Brown's agent, said no substantial talks with the Steelers have taken place but should soon.

Charlie Batch, who signed a one-year contract Tuesday to remain with the Steelers, said he'd like to compete for the No. 2 quarterback job behind Ben Roethlisberger. "Right now, the only job guaranteed is the No. 1 spot, and that's Ben's spot. ... I can't sit back and say that I'm content at three and just happy to be here. That's not the case."

(Ed Bouchette can be reached at or 412-263-3878.)

AP: Congressmen Say NFL's Steroids Policy Tough but 'Not Perfect'

Wednesday, April 27, 2005
By Howard Fendrich, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The NFL's steroids policy is tough, "but it's not perfect," the head of a congressional committee said today, adding that he plans to introduce a bill governing drug testing across the spectrum of U.S. sports.

Rep. Tom Davis opened the House Government Reform Committee's second hearing on steroids by saying the NFL had been more cooperative than Major League Baseball was when its drug program was examined publicly by the panel last month.

But saying that all sports leagues must "acknowledge that their testing programs need improvement," the Virginia Republican added that he and ranking Democrat Henry Waxman of California, along with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are working on legislation to create uniform policies for major sports.

Such an effort would face obstacles in Congress, which has been reluctant to legislate professional sports policy over the years.

In prepared testimony submitted to the committee, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and NFL Players Association chief executive Gene Upshaw said the league is tripling from two to six the number of random offseason tests that players can face.

They also said the league and union recently agreed to add new substances to the list of banned performance enhancers; to put in writing previously agreed-to policies to test for designer steroids; and to lower the testosterone ratio threshold.

"There are numerous issues on which management and labor disagree. ... But there is complete agreement on this: Steroids and other performance-enhancing substances have no place in our game, or anywhere in sports," Upshaw said.

He and Tagliabue sat next to each other and each occasionally jotted notes while some lawmakers criticized the NFL's penalties as too lenient and raised questions about whether amphetamines should be banned.

"Some people might think that this is a fairly weak policy," said Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
While boosting strength, steroids can lead to heart attacks, strokes, cancer, sterility and mood swings; using most steroids without a doctor's prescription for medical purposes has been illegal since 1991.

The NFL began testing in 1987, added suspensions in 1989, and instituted year-round random testing in 1990. Fifty-four players have been suspended.

"The percentage of NFL players who test positive for steroids is very low," Waxman said. "Is this because the policy is working or is this because players have figured out how to avoid detection?"

Tagliabue and Upshaw were among 10 witnesses scheduled to appear, including two doctors who supervise the NFL's testing, and two high school football coaches, one of whom suspended 10 of his players for using steroids.

Gary Wadler, a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency that oversees Olympic drug testing and penalties, knocked the NFL policy for leaving out amphetamines, and he urged the league to adopt blood testing to detect Human Growth Hormone.

In contrast to the March 17 baseball hearing, when several active or retired stars were subpoenaed to testify to much fanfare, only one former player was invited Wednesday: Steve Courson, an offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1978-85. He has admitted using steroids and blames that for a heart condition.

Courson delivered his statement to dozens of empty chairs: Only one member of the committee was present, because others left for a floor vote. Later, when asked by Waxman what percentage of pro football players use steroids today, Courson said: "That would be very hard for me to determine. I've been out of the game for 20 years."

Baseball banned steroids in September 2002 and instituted mandatory 10-day suspensions this season. The National Hockey League does not test players for performance-enhancing drugs, while first-time offenders are suspended for five games in the National Basketball Association.
In the NFL, a first positive test draws a four-game ban -- a quarter of the season -- and a second gets a six-game suspension. Only two players failed tests twice, and they both retired.

"It's a policy with tough penalties that's getting tougher all the time. But it's not perfect, and that's one of the reasons we're here today," Davis said. "The NFL's testing program has come under heightened scrutiny in recent weeks."

He mentioned a CBS report that a South Carolina doctor wrote steroid prescriptions for three Carolina Panthers in 2003.

AP: Courson Finds Few Ears For Steroid Story

Wednesday, April 27, 2005
By Howard Fendrich, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Looking up at dozens of empty black leather chairs and a lone lawmaker, former Steeler Steve Courson testified to Congress about his use of steroids and how that might have contributed to his heart disease.

As someone out of pro football for two decades, Courson said he couldn't address whether steroid use is prevalent today.

In a hearing that produced far less theater, attention and acrimony than last month's look at steroids in Major League Baseball, House lawmakers who are skeptical that professional leagues are doing enough moved forward today in their work toward a law setting drug-testing rules for major U.S. sports.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue told the House Government Reform Committee that such legislation would be a mistake.

"When it comes to process and other considerations, including discipline, we can deal with our own sport better than a uniform standard, which in many cases can become the lowest common denominator," he said.

Worried that steroid use among pro athletes encourages youths to try the drugs, the committee is examining the testing policies of more than a half-dozen sports.

"How is the average American supposed to look at the size, strength and speed of today's NFL linebackers and not conclude that they might be taking performance-enhancing drugs?" asked committee chairman, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va.

Said Tagliabue: "We don't feel that there is rampant cheating in our sport."

The proceedings were not as contentious as on March 17, when Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and other current and former baseball stars were compelled to appear and faced direct questions about whether they and other players used steroids. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, also a witness, was roundly criticized for his sport's policy, which lawmakers said was too lenient.

Today, the committee never heard an estimate of how widespread steroid use might be in the NFL, in part, perhaps, because they didn't have many players to ask.

Only two NFL players -- both retired -- were present. One was Hall of Famer Gene Upshaw, who retired from the game in 1982 and was invited because he is chief executive of the NFL Players Association.

The other was Courson, an offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1978-85. He was on a heart transplant list for four years but credited diet and exercise with reversing the condition.

In a hearing room where all but one congressman left because of a floor vote, he said steroid use in the NFL began in the 1960s and was prevalent in his day.

But asked by the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Henry Waxman of California, what percentage of pro football players use steroids today, Courson said: "That would be very hard for me to determine. I've been out of the game for 20 years."

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., said if Congress was "serious about investigating steroid use among football players today," lawmakers should hear from current players.

Davis promised more hearings and said the NBA will be next.

The NFL began testing in 1987, added suspensions in 1989, and instituted year-round random testing in 1990. Fifty-four players have been suspended, and Tagliabue said an additional 57 retired after testing positive. A first offense carries a four-game ban.

On the eve of the hearing, the NFL announced it is tripling from two to six the number of random offseason tests that players can face. The league is also adding to its list of banned performance-enhancers.

"We would be naive to not be aware that there are people out there who are trying to stay ahead of the curve," Upshaw said. "As soon as we find out about something, we do something about it."

Lawmakers generally praised the NFL for its cooperation. More than one committee member said the hearing was a "breath of fresh air" compared to the session with Major League Baseball.
Still, lawmakers asked 10 witnesses whether the size of today's NFL players is evidence of steroid use. They criticized football's penalties as too lenient and asked whether amphetamines should be banned and when growth hormone will be tested for.

And they asked about a CBS report that a South Carolina doctor wrote steroid prescriptions in 2003 for three Carolina Panthers who played in that season's Super Bowl. Tagliabue said the league is investigating.

"The percentage of NFL players who test positive for steroids is very low," Waxman said. "Is this because the policy is working or is this because players have figured out how to avoid detection?"

He never got a direct answer.

Robert Dvorchak: Courson Outlines Steroid Use Solutions

Former Steeler Courson outlines solutions for steroid use

Wednesday, April 27, 2005
By Robert Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In another appearance before a congressional panel looking into the issue of steroids, Steve Courson will speak today from personal knowledge about the health effects of juicing and what he believes to be the scope of use by big-time athletes in this day and age.

But the former Steelers lineman and author of a book on steroids also will use his time under oath to offer potential solutions to the troublesome issue of adolescent steroid use.

"It's very easy to point the finger at a problem that's been long-standing and vexing," said Courson, who already has submitted a written statement that will become part of the Congressional Record. "One of the things I'm excited about is the opportunity to present some solution-oriented ideas. I guess I've come full circle on this issue."

Courson, a personal trainer and professional speaker, was a one-time candidate for a heart transplant because of steroid-related afflictions. He also counsels overweight kids and believes a combination of actions could provide the intervention necessary to contain steroid use without cost-prohibitive testing of high school students in Pennsylvania and other states.

Steps would include a national steroids policy by a group such as the National Federation of State High School Associations coupled with an education program that would help school nurses identify potential users.

Courson's proposal would use the body mass index, or the height-to-weight ratio used to identify obesity, as a way of spotting steroid users.

"What you could do with that tool is use it as a marker to identify, say, a 10th-grader who gained 25 pounds of lean body mass in a year. You could have school nurses look for telltale signs of steroid use like acne and oily skin. It would help 'red flag' some of these kids at risk," Courson said.

States such as Florida, Minnesota, Michigan and Texas are considering testing high school athletes, but, at $100 per test per student, the costs would be enormous.

Courson did not require a subpoena to appear in front of the House Committee on Government Reform, which is having a series of hearings that could lead to a single agency overseeing drug testing in professional, college and high school sports. An estimated 500,000 high school students have tried steroids, according to committee chairman Tom Davis, R-Va.

Also appearing will be NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw of the NFL Players Association, among others.

The NFL phase of the hearings likely will be less contentious than the 11-hour marathon last month involving Major League Baseball's policies, which came into question in part because of Jose Canseco's tell-all book "Juiced."

The NFL instituted steroid testing in 1987, four years before steroids were classified as a controlled substance under federal law and 15 years before Major League Baseball players were subjected to testing. The NFL and its union are considering tightening the testing trigger that currently exists.

When Courson was an offensive guard with the Steelers, a banner depicting him as a mutated "Incredible Bulk" used to hang at Three Rivers Stadium. He outlined his use of steroids, beginning with Dianabol, in "False Glory" -- his 1991 book that got him blackballed by his peers.
Courson previously testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1989 as Congress was in the process of making it a federal crime to possess and distribute steroids without a prescription.

By the time Courson retired in 1988, after winning two Super Bowl rings and contending for the title of NFL's Strongest Man, doctors had told him his heart muscles had weakened to the point that he would survive only a few years if he didn't have a heart transplant.

He attributed his cardiomyopathy to a combination of factors -- steroid use, the stress placed on his heart by the added weight he gained and a poor lifestyle that included alcohol abuse. He never got the transplant, but remedied his condition through diet and exercise.

Courson, 49, wonders about the next generation of performance enhancers. Anabolic steroids might have reached the limits of their effectiveness, but genetic engineering is on the horizon. That technique alters genes to remove the mechanism that regulates how big the body will grow. No test, no matter how effective, can stop the next potential beast.

"Performance-enhancers are not a sports issue, but a societal issue," Courson said. "We embrace instant gratification. We're a society that embraces 'bigger, faster, stronger' and winning at all costs. This is going to be a difficult nut to crack. We've opened a Pandora's box, and we're still trying to figure out how to close it."

(Robert Dvorchak can be reached at or 412-263-1959. Click here for more National Football League news.)

Monday, April 25, 2005

Ed Bouchette: Steelers Draft Plenty of Pass Catchers

Steelers help Roethlisberger by getting pass catchers
Monday, April 25, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

More draft coverage
Steelers' 2nd-round pick isn't bragging
The Steelers' 2005 draft picks
NFL Draft: Steelers' picks rounds 4-7

The Steelers did not fulfill Ben Roethlisberger's wishes when he asked them to keep receiver Plaxico Burress, but they listened. And in the past two days, they presented gifts to their young quarterback that he may like even more.

They followed up their choice of a big, pass consuming tight end with their first pick Saturday by drafting a tall, fast, athletic wide receiver with their top choice yesterday.

Big Ben got Big Money (tight end Heath Miller's nickname) Saturday and yesterday he got a big wide receiver when the Steelers drafted 6-foot-4 Fred Gibson of Georgia in the fourth round.
Gibson played split end at Georgia, where he was overshadowed by flanker Reggie Brown, Philadelphia's second-round draft pick. But Gibson has the potential to grow into something special, particularly if he can gain strength and add weight to a slight 202-pound frame.
"This guy has a big upside," said Bruce Arians, who coaches the Steelers' receivers. "He has height, jumping ability and the speed to go along."

Gibson played basketball at Georgia as a freshman before he concentrated on football. The comparisons to Burress, a 6-5 1/2 receiver who signed with the Giants this year as a free agent, come naturally.

"He is a couple inches shorter," Arians said. "Probably a little faster [4.47 in the 40]. He is the same style player at outside receiver. He gives us the height that we lost, hopefully, and makes plays in the red zone with his height and jumping ability."

Counting the two new receivers, the Steelers drafted four of their first six picks on offense, including two linemen they hope can help protect Roethlisberger. Surely Roethlisberger had to like this draft.

"I really don't care," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "The bottom line is, I think we helped our football team."

The Steelers turned to defense with their fifth-round choice, drafting junior Rian Wallace of Temple with the 166th pick. Wallace played inside linebacker for the Owls and was all-Big East in 2004. Some NFL teams project Wallace as an outside linebacker, but the Steelers will try him on the inside.

In the sixth round, the Steelers drafted 6-3 1/2, 344-pound guard Chris Kemoeatu of Utah.
Wallace, Gibson and Kemoeatu each had mild transgressions in college. Wallace was suspended for Temple's game against Pitt last season for scuffling with a teammate in the locker room.
Gibson -- along with Brown and other teammates -- allegedly sold his SEC championship ring. The sales embarrassed the university, but the NCAA cleared the players of any wrongdoing.
Kemoeatu was suspended twice in 2003 for kicking opponents, and has a temperament Steelers line coach Russ Grimm termed "aggressive."

"That mean streak I got, I think I've overcome that problem of mine," Kemoeatu said.

The Steelers were involved in an intra-team fight in their locker room in minicamp in 2000 with linebacker Earl Holmes at the center of it. As for selling championship rings, the Steelers would love to give Gibson a second chance at selling one next year. And Hall of Famer Joe Greene did more than kick a few opponents in his day, even punching one in the stomach in a playoff game in 1977.

Kemoeatu is Tongan; the Steelers' first pick in the seventh round, defensive end Shaun Nua of BYU, is Samoan through Pago Pago. They banged against each other when Utah played BYU.
"He is a dirty player, I'll say that, but not when I went against him," Nua said with a chuckle. "But he is a tough guy, though, I'll tell you that. That was a good pick, too. You came to the right place, man."

The Steelers drafted running back Noah Herron of Northwestern, a 5-11, 224-pounder, with their final choice. Herron was all-Big Ten last season after rushing for 1,381 yards, 14 touchdowns and a 5.0 average per carry. He also caught 36 passes last season. The Steelers want to see if he can play halfback and fullback.

Some analysts thought Gibson might go in the second round, and the Steelers had a second-round grade on him. They've had success with receivers drafted after the first round through the years. Their best of all came when they drafted John Stallworth in the fourth round in 1974. More recently they drafted Antwaan Randle El in the second round in 2003 and Hines Ward in the third round in 1998 from Georgia.

"He also played at Georgia, so I know he's going to look after me no matter what," Gibson said.
Gibson will get a shot as a rookie, but he'll have to go through Randle El and Cedrick Wilson, the team's only outside signing in free agency, at split end. Randle El and Wilson also will compete for the position in the slot.

"If they are going to double-team Hines or Antwaan, you have to have some kind of mismatch outside," Arians said. "I think he will give us that."
Said Cowher, "He's a tall guy who can run fast, a very good route runner."

Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations, said it was one of the team's best drafts in terms of targeting players they wanted in certain areas of the draft and getting those players.
"Things really broke very well for us. All the players we wanted really fell into place ... we didn't reach," he said.

NOTES -- The Steelers began signing undrafted rookies after the draft and hoped to land 11 or 12, with a higher concentration at linebacker than other positions. They also may sign a rookie quarterback. Veteran QB Charlie Batch, who has been with them three years, is a free agent Colbert says is "an option." ... Colbert also said "there's been communication" with former Steelers LB Chad Brown, released by Seattle the past week. However, Brown turned down a $1 million annual offer to remain with the Seahawks and appears headed to Denver.

(Ed Bouchette can be reached at 0r 412-263-3878.)

Gene Collier: Steelers Get Kick Out of Kemoeatu

Collier: So far, can't kick about draft
Monday, April 25, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers were not looking for a kicker in this draft, but they took one in yesterday's sixth round anyway in the person of Utah's Chris Kemoeatu, whose kicking experience goes essentially like this:

He kicked a UNLV player into the hospital in a game in 2003, one week after he kicked a grounded San Diego State defender for a rare two-game ejection streak.

Talk about issues.

That got him kicked off the roster for a week and eventually Kemoeatu went into anger management counseling. Kicking and screaming presumably.
"This mean streak that I got, I think I've overcome that problem," Kemoeatu said on the phone late on the second day of the NFL draft. "I think I've really matured from that incident and I've learned a lot from it."

I think the important lesson here is, if you're 6 feet 3 and 344 pounds and can topple a vending machine with a single spasm of testosterone, a little streak of documented intemperance (even if the legal term is closer to felonious assault) can be viewed as an asset in the right job hunt.
"He's aggressive," Steelers offensive line coach Russ Grimm said when asked to describe Kemoeatu's temperament. "He's an explosive player. We like him."

Asked specifically if the Utah guard's short fuse would be a concern, Grimm said, "No, as long as it's not in the meeting room. He'll be fine. He loves to play the game. He gets excited about it."

If nothing else, the selection of Uikelotu "Christopher" Kemoeatu validated the pre-draft analysis that the Steelers' primary need was at the psychologist position, not that anyone had said as much. But when you're coming off a 15-1 season, played three games in which you were not so much as forced to punt, and you don't really have anything that would be classically described as a need, you sometimes look in nontraditional directions.

What this team needs most, after all, is someone who can have them play a lot more confidently in home AFC championship games, and that's really something of a niche position. What you lack might be an enraged 344-pound Ute and it might be a 144-pound grad student at Johns Hopkins with an insight into sports psychology previously not posited, so the football playing public wedged into those ephemeral parameters can present something of a puzzle.

This is much is evident -- the Steelers are pretty good in this situation.

The last time they drafted from the 30th turn in each round, the spring of 2002, they took Kendall Simmons, Antwaan Randle El, Chris Hope, Larry Foote, Verron Haynes, Lee Mays, LaVar Glover and Brett Keisel. All but Glover remain important components.

Each time the Steelers have advanced to the AFC title game or beyond in the Cowher Era, they've drafted effectively in the subsequent spring, and Cowher wasn't doubting they could go 7 for 8 on the players they took this weekend, which is what he batted in 2002.

"It can be duplicated," Cowher said. "I don't want to go in with any preconceived thoughts about it. We took football players. You look at a player like Rian Wallace [the fourth-round pick from Temple], we needed a 'backer and we took him in the spot we took Larry Foote in. We pretty much stuck to the board. The one thing we did not want to get away from was, I don't want to say reach, but try to fill a position before they needed to be filled by bypassing a good football player.

"Obviously, we don't want people kicking people, but we want competitive people. We want them to play with passion. We'll get them in here and expose them to veteran players who know what's expected and we'll get them wearing the black and gold and they'll know what that means."

It was notable that Cowher would point out Wallace because many a draft has begun to break down at the first mention of the word "Temple" -- as Temple football pretty much remains an oxymoron.

"Temple played a little bit different scheme than we did," Steelers linebacker coach Keith Butler said.

Did they ever.

Oklahoma had 11 players drafted this weekend, and it must say something about Wallace that when the Steelers took the All-Big East inside linebacker from Pottstown with the 166th pick, Sooners defensive stalwarts Lance Mitchell and Michael Hawkins were still on the board. Mitchell is a linebacker.

Despite what you'll hear and read in the next 24 hours, there is simply no evaluating a draft class until it plays a few seasons. Even in the age of instant analysis, I couldn't begin to project the impact of this crop of Steelers draftees until I at least see their tattoos.

(Gene Collier can be reached at or 412-263-1283.)

Ed Bouchette: Steelers Hope Gibson Can Replace Burress

Steelers hope Georgia wide receiver can replace Burress
Temple linebacker taken in fifth round
Sunday, April 24, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers, who lost a 6-foot-5 receiver in free agency, picked one who stands 6-4 with their first choice on the second day of the draft.

Fred Gibson of Georgia may not be able to replace Plaxico Burress, but he'll get his opportunities as a fourth-round draft choice. Hines Ward was a third-round pick from Georgia.

Gibson is a better athlete than Burress, he's faster, he jumps higher and he also played on Georgia's basketball team. Some analysts saw him being taken in the second or third round and the Steelers were thrilled to get him late in the fourth.

"It's like judging a beauty contest,'' Steelers receivers coach Bruce Arians said. "There are so many good players [in this draft] at this position.''

Arians lauded Gibson's Senior Bowl practices and his senior season, when he caught 49 passes for 801 yards playing on the same team as flanker Reggie Brown, drafted high in the third round by Philadelphia. Gibson played split end in college and that's where he will play for the Steelers, the same position as Burress, who signed as a free agent with the Giants this year.
"Same style, an outside receiver,'' Arians said. "He fits the bill there and hopefully replace the height we lost there.''

Thin at linebacker, that's where the Steelers went with their fifth-round pick. They drafted junior Rian Wallace of Temple with the 166th pick.
Wallace played inside linebacker for the Owls and was all-Big East in 2004. But he also was suspended for their game against Pitt because he was involved in a fight in his own locker room.

Some NFL teams project Wallace as an outside linebacker, but the Steelers will try him on the inside first. They have starters James Farrior, Larry Foote and backup Clint Kriewaldt on the inside.

On the outside, the Steelers have Joey Porter and Clark Haggans as their starters, but Alonzo Jackson has done little in two seasons after they drafted him in the second round in 2003. Last year, James Harrison was their top backup outside even though they signed him as a street free agent days before training camp opened.

They drafted offensive guard Chris Kemoeatu of Utah in the sixth round, with the 204th pick.
A three-year starter for the Utes who earned All-Mountain West Conference honors, he is 6-3, 344. Kemoeatu also has a mean streak because he was suspended twice for kicking opponents during games

Kemoeatu is Tongan; the Steelers first pick in the seventh round is Samoan, defensive end Shaun Nua of Brigham Young through Pago Pago. They went bango bango against each other when Utah played BYU.
"He is a dirty player I'll say that but not when I went against him,'' Nua said with a chuckle. "But he is a tough guy, though, I'll tell you that. That was a good pick too. You came to the right place, man.''
Nua joins end Brett Keisel and nose Chris Hoke as products from BYU in the Steelers defensive line.

Their final pick, No. 244 in the draft, was running back Noah Herron of Northwestern, a 5-11, 224 pounder.
Herron was all-Big Ten last season after rushing for 1,381 yards, 14 touchdowns and a 5.0 average per carry. He also caught 36 passes last season.

(Click here for more NFL Draft news.)

Ed Bouchette: Steelers Find Helping Hands

With the 30th pick of the 2005 draft, the Steelers find some helping hands
Cowher counting on receiving TE to give Big Ben another target
Sunday, April 24, 2005
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Just as they did last year, only 19 spots lower this time, the Steelers got their man in the draft when they selected Virginia tight end Heath Miller with the 30th pick of the first round yesterday.

They can only hope Miller works out nearly as well as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did last season.

"We want to put some good players around our young quarterback and at the same time not get away from what we believe in," coach Bill Cowher said shortly after the team picked Miller. "This guy can catch, he has big hands -- huge hands. I just like the way he plays. He finishes blocks; he's a no-nonsense guy. He's a good fit for our football team, not just our offense."

Miller became the first tight end drafted in the first round by the Steelers since Mark Bruener in 1995. And he should be the team's best receiver at the position since Eric Green in the early '90s.

Miller's forte as a 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight end is catching the football. He caught 77 passes in 2003. He dropped down to 41 receptions last season as a junior despite a season-long bout with a sports hernia. Still, he won the Mackey Award as college football's best tight end.
Miller had surgery in January and said he should be ready to go next week, although Cowher said there's no rush.

"He's a tough guy," Cowher said. "He had an injury that I'm not so sure a lot of people would have played through last year. But he did, he played through it."
Cowher said it's the same surgery cornerback Deshea Townsend had after the season and he, too, is healing well.

The Steelers usually red flag players with injuries, but they did not this time because they are convinced Miller is healthy. However, his injury probably prevented others from drafting him earlier.
"It's pretty good when you're sitting at 30 and you get the No. 1 guy on the board at his position," Cowher said. "I think when you can do that, there's got to be good fortune that goes with that.

"I think what scared a lot of people is the fact he has not worked out since the end of the season. I think a lot of people were a little reluctant probably to pick a guy and not knowing [if he's fully recovered]. We're very comfortable with where he's at."

The Steelers haven't thrown much to their tight end since Green left in 1994, mainly because they did not have good receivers at that position. Jerame Tuman led all their tight ends with nine receptions last season. That should change.

John Heller, Associated PressSteelers coach Bill Cowher, left, and Kevin Colbert, director of football operations, discuss the pick of Heath Miller.Click photo for larger image.

"You talk about us not throwing to the tight end, but we try to utilize the people we have," Cowher said. "When we had Eric Green here we tried to utilize him. I'm not saying he's Eric Green, but we think he's a pretty good football player that is not just a one-dimensional guy."
Green caught 63 passes in 1993, Cowher's second season, and 46 in 1994 before he left as a free agent. Mark Bruener caught 26 as a rookie in 1995, but no Steelers tight end has caught 20 passes since then.

Cowher, though, promised the Steelers would not change what they do on offense, that Miller merely will enhance what they do.

"I think he fits into our offense," Cowher said. "It doesn't need to change."
Miller said that if the Steelers want him to block, he can block.

"I'm sure the coaches are going to do what we have to do to win football games," Miller said. "If that means run the ball a lot then I'm more than happy to do my part in the blocking aspect and do as well as I can."

The Steelers identified Miller as their most likely draft choice near the end of the week, especially after the New York Jets traded their first-round pick (No. 26) to Oakland for veteran tight end Doug Jolley. That took the Jets out of the market for a tight end.

"When you looked at the group of teams in front of us, most of them have very good tight ends, some of them are Pro Bowlers," said Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations. "You knew if Heath reached a certain point, there was a chance he would slide down, but you also worried about someone coming up from the bottom.

"We just had to wait it out. Sometimes that's the best situation. Certainly, it worked for us last year."

Miller, who caught a 52-yard touchdown pass against Pitt in the 2002 Continental Tire Bowl, can't wait to catch passes from last year's rookie sensation, Roethlisberger.
"I think it's going to be exciting. It's a great place to be for a tight end. I know I'm going to have to be a good blocker and a receiver, which is what I want to be."

(Ed Bouchette can be reached at or 412-263-3878.)

Gerry Dulac: Miller Could be Perfect Fit

Steelers believe their new TE from small-town Virginia could be perfect fit
Sunday, April 24, 2005
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Everybody, it seems, knows Heath Miller in his hometown of Swords Creek, Va. The tiny coal and farming community is located about 45 minutes from Bristol, and the local high school has an enrollment of 340 students. Doug Hubbard, the head football coach for 22 years at Honaker High School, is like most of the townspeople. He has been friends with Earl and Denise Miller since their son, Heath, was born.

"I can't ever remember not knowing him," Hubbard said. "I watched him grow up and mature."
Yesterday was a big day in Swords Creek because Heath Miller, a former three-sport star at Honaker, was drafted in the first round by the Steelers. But it was an especially big day for Hubbard, who was thrilled his former all-state quarterback landed with the Steelers.
"I've been a Steelers fan since the 1970s," said Hubbard, 45. "I was thrilled to death. You couldn't ask for a better pick for me."

Funny, but the Steelers feel the same way.

They got a tight end to pair with Jerame Tuman, another pass-catcher to go with Hines Ward, and, according to Hubbard, a player with unquestionable character and impressive desire.
"My son is 4, and, if he grows up with a lot of the same characteristics and value Heath has, I'll be well-pleased," Hubbard said. "You see his stats and watch him play, yes, he's a hell of a player. But he's a better person than he is football player.

"I had an NFL scout call me not too long ago and I told him, if you want a rah-rah guy, you're after the wrong kid. But, if you want a football player, you got one."
That's exactly what the Steelers thought after they selected Miller, a junior from the University of Virginia and the consensus No. 1 tight end in the draft, with the 30th overall pick.
"He's a guy who can block, a guy who can stretch the field, a guy who fits our system very well," coach Bill Cowher said. "He gives you a unique combination. It's hard to find a guy who has those two qualities."

Miller has been compared in ability to Baltimore's Todd Heap, a two-time Pro Bowler, and in size (6 feet 5, 255 pounds) to Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten. But veteran NFL scout Dan Shonka said in an interview in The Sporting News that Miller "is a little better than Todd Heap was at this point."

The Steelers had four players targeted as a first-round selection, players whom they thought would be available at No. 30 -- Miller, Alabama-Birmingham wide receiver Roddy White, Southern California defensive tackle Mike Patterson and Mississippi tackle Marcus Johnson. Even though White was selected three picks earlier by the Atlanta Falcons, Miller was the player the Steelers coveted all along.

They had him rated as the No. 1 tight end in the draft. The Steele rs did not have the other players rated No. 1 at their respective position.

"Pretty good sitting at No. 30 to get the No. 1 guy on the board at his position," Cowher said.
"Some of the teams in front of us had very good tight ends, most of them Pro Bowlers," director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. "We knew if Heath reached a certain point he could slide down, but you also worry about someone trading up from the bottom."

Miller went to Virginia as a quarterback, but he quickly evolved into a quarterback's favorite target.

Miller was a two-time all-state quarterback at Honaker. In three seasons as a starter, he accounted for 77 touchdowns. He was also an All-Virginia first baseman in baseball and was an all-district power forward in basketball.
"He's a real humble kid who works hard at everything he does," said Wayne Davis, Miller's uncle who lives about 100 yards from his nephew. "He's very focused. He doesn't let a whole lot of things distract him."

Miller was selected the Virginia High School Coaches Association Group A offensive player of the year as a senior. He combined to pass for more than 3,370 yards and 45 touchdowns as a sophomore and junior. He also rushed for 1,544 yards during his sophomore and junior years.
But, when Miller went to Virginia, he was redshirted as a freshman and converted to tight end after the season when Al Groh replaced George Welsh as head coach.
"I knew going into college that was always an option," Miller said. "When I first came to Virginia, they had a number of good quarterbacks and I didn't see myself playing anytime soon. I just wanted to be on the field."

It was some conversion.

As a sophomore, he caught 70 passes from quarterback Matt Schaub. Last season, after Schaub graduated, Miller's numbers dwindled to 41 receptions, but that still accounted for nearly 25 percent of quarterback Marques Hagans' completions. Part of the reason: Miller played most of the season with a sports hernia, an injury that required postseason surgery and scared off some NFL teams. In three seasons, Miller had 144 catches and 20 touchdowns, an Atlantic Coast Conference record for a tight end.

Miller also had multiple arthroscopic knee procedures at Virginia, but the Steelers have cleared him medically to play. He will not participate in minicamp in two weeks, but Cowher said he will be ready for training camp in July.
"It's tough for me to come off the field, so that really wasn't an option for me," Miller said, explaining why he played with the sports hernia.

Speaking of option, Miller's presence means the Steelers could have as many as three former quarterbacks catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger (Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El are the others). As a redshirt freshman, Miller threw a 20-yard touchdown pass against South Carolina.
"We got enough guys on this team who can throw the ball," said offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, smiling.

Asked if the Steelers would like to use him like Heap, who lines up in several spots on the field, Whisenhunt said, "It's like anything -- the system will take care of that. If he shows he can do some things, you'll develop some plays for him. As he has success, maybe you can do some things that will take advantage of his strengths. But you don't design them until you see what he can do."

Miller is 12 credits shy of a degree in sociology and plans to graduate in May. The diploma will say Earl Miller, his full name. Heath was a nickname given him by his mother, who was a fan of the old western TV series "The Big Valley." One of the characters on the show was Heath Barkley, played by actor Lee Majors.
Miller's greatest achievement, though, might be putting Swords Creek on the map. Right now, it isn't even on a map of Virginia.
"We don't have a stop light in Swords Creek, if that tells you anything," Davis said.
Perhaps. But they have Heath Miller.

(Gerry Dulac can be reached at or 412-263-1466.)

Ron Cook: Three Questions Draw Attention to No. 1 Pick

Sunday, April 24, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Two minutes on the telephone, and I'm wondering if the guy has what it takes to make it in this town.

"I never like to draw attention to myself," Heath Miller was saying early last night.
Talk about a tough adjustment to the NFL.

As the Steelers' No. 1 pick, Miller, a pass-catching tight end from Virginia, is facing the scrutiny of his young life. Welcome to Pittsburgh, kid! Between now and training camp, three questions will be asked about him a million different ways by a million different people.

Will Miller's sports hernia injury be the career-killer that it was for Kendrell Bell with the Steelers?

Will Miller be able to block well enough to keep Duce Staley, Jerome Bettis and that Steelers' power offense rolling?

And, by far the most interesting query, will the Steelers throw Miller the darn thing?
Here are the early answers:

No problem.

We'll see.

Are you kidding?

There's no doubt Miller slipped to the Steelers at No. 30 because of his injury, torn abdominal muscles. He played hurt much of last season, had to shut it down in Virginia's bowl game, had surgery in early January and couldn't work out for NFL teams.

But it took only one look at Bill Cowher's smirk last night to know the Steelers had no qualms about taking Miller. It came when he was asked if Miller's injury is similar to Bell's last season. The feeling at Steelers headquarters is that Bell's problems had less to do with his stomach than it did with his head and his contract unhappiness. That's why the team didn't care that Bell left as a free agent.

"He's a tough guy," Cowher said of Miller. "He had an injury that I don't know how many guys would have played through."

Here's guessing Bell felt that parting shot in the gut all the way to Kansas City.
"It really didn't take us very long to turn the pick in," Cowher said of Miller again.
Miller said he is recuperating well and has been told by doctors he'll be full-go by the Steelers' minicamp early next month. Cowher will settle for July.

That will give Miller plenty of time to learn the offense. That should be the least of his problems. He played in a pro-style system at Virginia under former NFL head coach Al Groh. He's also a bright guy, a sociology major who says he will graduate on the four-year plan in May. That's impressive for any big-time player let alone one at a prestigious school.

The next three months also will give Miller time to add the bulk the Steelers think he needs to be successful as a blocker. (By eating and working out, silly). He said he easily could add 10 pounds to his 6-foot-5, 256-pound frame and not lose quickness. That should help him take on those mean-spirited defensive ends and linebackers, the top priority for any Steelers tight end.

"The thing I like about him is he's not afraid to put his nose in there," Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. "The biggest part of run-blocking is want-to. He has that. I'm sure he'll get better as he learns the techniques."

Said Cowher, "He's not just a one-dimensional guy."

Obviously, Miller will be a work in progress as a blocker.

Now, to that third question.

"Yeah, we're going to throw to him," Whisenhunt said, grinning.

I know what you're thinking.

I, too, long have thought the Steelers don't utilize their tight end enough as a receiver. Every season, they tell us they're going to throw to him. Every season, they don't. Jerame Tuman had nine catches last season.

But, if you think about it, the Steelers haven't had a capable receiving tight end since Eric Green. Would you rather they have thrown the ball to a tight end who might have dropped it 50 percent of the time or to Plaxico Burress?

OK, bad example.

Let me try again.

Would you rather they have thrown it to a tight end or Hines Ward?

Miller could change that, although Cowher took some offense to the suggestion. "I don't think you need to change," he said. "I think [Miller] will enhance what we do and bring another dimension to it." Certainly, it's easier to believe Whisenhunt when he says he's going to use Miller. The kid has the receiving skills to open up the offense.

"I think the quarterback is going to open up the offense," Whisenhunt said.

Maybe you have heard of him.

Ben Roethlisberger.

"As he gets more comfortable, we'll be able to do a lot more things," Whisenhunt said.

Don't look for the Steelers to line up Miller outside the way the Baltimore Ravens do with Todd Heap. He's not that fast. But he should be able to get open down the middle of the field and use his quickness to beat a linebacker or his physical skills to beat a safety. And his hands? Cowher gushed about those the way he did about Roethlisberger's arm last year and Troy Polamalu's speed the year before and Kendall Simmons' motor, whatever that is, the year before.
"Big hands, huge hands," Cowher said.

When Cowher and Whisenhunt closed their eyes last night, they probably dreamed of a new-and-improved play-action passing game with Miller.
"I think the quarterback is going to be very comfortable with this guy," Whisenhunt said.
You know the truth as well as I do:
If Big Ben is happy, all of us are going to be happy.

(Ron Cook can be reached at or 412-263-1525.)

Ed Bouchette: Steelers Take Tight End With No. 1 Pick

Florida State cornerback taken No. 2
Saturday, April 23, 2005
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Just as they did last year, only 19 spots lower, the Steelers got their man in the draft when they selected Virginia tight end Heath Miller with the 30th pick of the first round of the NFL draft today.
Miller becomes the first tight end drafted on the first round by the Steelers since they took Mark Bruener in 1995, and he should be their best receiver at the position since Eric Green was selected No. 1 in 1990.

Miller's forte as a 6-5, 255-pound tight end is catching the football. He caught 41 passes for 541 yards last season as a junior and won the Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end.
"He's the guy who kinda fits what we like to do. . . I think he fits our system well," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher.
Miller was a first team All-American last season. Against Pitt in the Continental Tire Bowl after the 2002 season, he led the Cavaliers with 84 yards receiving on four catches, including a 52-yard touchdown.

With their No. 2 pick and the 62nd overall, the Steelers selected Florida State cornerback Bryant McFadden.
The scouting consensus is that McFadden, an All-Southeastern Conference defender, is a No. 2 corner who may lack athleticism but reads plays quickly and closes well on the ball.
A smart, disciplined defender, he doesn't shy from contact but has trouble staying with the very quick receivers. Has good instincts and is similar to former Seminoles cornerback Samari Rolle, though he isn't a playmaker in Rolle's class.

Trai Essex, an offensive tackle from Northwestern, was the Steelers No. 3 and final pick of the day.
A converted tight end and three-year starter for the Wildcats, Essex is very quick for an interior lineman. He moves and slides well and at times plays with a mean streak.
The scouting report says Essex is a long-range prospect whose quickness and raw athletic ability makes his a intriguing player.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Gene Collier: Community Needs Bettis

Thursday, April 14, 2005
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jerome was at the door.


Forgot his keys.


Mostly to save the hinges, Kurt Weiss yanked it open from inside Alumni Hall, University of Notre Dame. It is September 1992. And there, against the backdrop of a drumming Indiana downpour, stood the Fighting Irish running back everyone knew on sight.
"Aw, thanks, man," Jerome Bettis said.

Then as now, Bettis hit hard, talked soft.

"Hi," he said, extending his hand, "I'm Jerome."

This is from Weiss' crystalline memory, the part that covers a time in his life mostly poisoned by life-threatening illness. The still-disconnected story that has played out since says a lot about Jerome Bettis and Kurt Weiss and perhaps an awful lot more about the precepts for heroism, how we ultimately define it, and even of something as tangible as the hidden cost to a community should Bettis tell the Steelers he doesn't have another football season in him after all.

Yesterday, on a concrete patio outside the Biomedical Science Tower off Darragh Street in Oakland, Dr. Kurt Weiss insisted he won't bother to look up the heroism prerequisites for another "60 or 70 years."

"Being heroic or being called a hero should be the culmination of a lifetime of effort and accomplishment," said the second-year resident in orthopedic surgery at UPMC. "I appreciate people saying or thinking nice things about me, but I'm not doing anything extraordinary."

What Weiss might consider extraordinary are closer to the things Jerome Bettis did in the weeks after their soggy introduction in South Bend. Diagnosed with bone cancer after finding himself suddenly a step slow at football practice at North Hills High School, Weiss clung to the dream of attending Notre Dame as his older sister had. That dream came true, but two things were truer still in his first weeks on campus. He wasn't healthy enough to stay, and he was going to lose his leg. Inside Alumni Hall, word spread quickly.

"Jerome was upset," Weiss remembered. "He was just visually saddened that I had to leave so soon after getting there. He said, 'Is there anything I can do?' People say that all the time. They don't always mean it. They can't."

No, they can't. What can you do for a sickly freshman whose cancer had spread to his lung by the time they'd found it? Who was looking at -- what -- seven operations? Who had one in five, one in 10 chances to live?

"Just beat Penn State," said Weiss, an intense Pitt fan.

Bettis remembered Weiss in the minutes before Notre Dame went out in the snow to play Penn State that November. Mentioned it to head coach Lou Holtz. Holtz Gippered it to the boys. With 42 seconds left in the game, Bettis caught a touchdown pass that vaulted the Irish to a 17-16 victory.

Weiss listened to that one at Shadyside Hospital, screaming. Agony, nurses thought. Ecstasy, Weiss recalled.

Two weeks later, he got a package in the mail. Game ball with his name and the final score on it. New Alumni Hall sweatshirt. A note from Jerome: "I hope you enjoyed the game we won for you."

"Jerome knew that I could never repay him and might not even see him again," Weiss said. "But he still went incredibly out of his way to do something positive for a friend in need. He's just that kind of man."

This is what Pittsburgh loses when Bettis retires. Rather than complain about Bettis' if-all-goes-well qualified commitment to the 2005 Steelers, maybe some of us ought to take a different look at the fallout. Bettis' kind of character commands that perspective. It is no small thing.

"I think athletes should be role models," Weiss was saying on the patio. "When they're complaining, they're forgetting about something. If I'm in surgery 12 or 13 hours or I'm complaining about the number of calls I've got to take, I have to say, 'This is my choice. I chose this life.' With athletes, they chose a profession they know kids will inevitably look up to. With their performance and with the things they say, they have to know there's an implicit trust there."

If there's a better way to explain that sometimes contentious dynamic, I haven't heard it in awhile.

Weiss returned to Notre Dame the following autumn, after Bettis had left for the NFL. He marched in the Notre Dame band with his prosthetic leg. He went on to medical school in Philadelphia and now feeds on a much more critically implicit trust under Dr. Freddie Fu.
"I don't want these people to think they made a mistake in bringing me here," Weiss said. "I always want them to think, 'Thank God Kurt is on tonight.' Orthopedics is a tough situation. It's jumping on the table and reducing the hit. I can talk to people without the BS.

"Yesterday, someone lost his leg, traumatically. I can tell him, 'Look, you can go to college, you can be a doctor, you can marry a wonderful girl and have wonderful children, like I have.' "
Yeah, Dr. Weiss can pound that door like nobody else.


Kurt Weiss and Jerome Bettis have not seen each other since the fall of 1992. You can argue that each would have become the man he is without the other, but I think you'd lose. The rest of us are just terribly lucky they're here.

The Steelers are 7-4 in Saturday games (4-3 away from home). The last time the Steelers played on Christmas Eve, which falls on a Saturday, was in 1995 against Green Bay at Lambeau Field. Two games later the Steelers earned a trip to the Super Bowl.

Ed Bouchette: Steelers to Play 4 Night Games

Thursday, April 14, 2005
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers went 15-1 without playing a Monday night game last season, so what's the big deal that they play three Monday games in 2005?

"It's a reward and a curse, playing that many Sunday night, Monday night, 4:15 p.m. games," club president Art Rooney said after the NFL released its schedule yesterday for next season. "Most of the coaches would like to have everything at 1 p.m. on Sundays, but it goes with the territory, and you have to be prepared for the challenge."

All those 1 p.m. games last season proved to be good for the Steelers, who became the first AFC team to win 15 games in the regular season. They were on just one prime-time game, a Sunday night. Next season, they will play three Monday night games, the most any team can play, another Sunday night and three more at 4:15 p.m. Sunday.

Their three Monday night games will be Oct. 10 at San Diego, at home Oct. 31 against Baltimore and Nov. 28 at Indianapolis. They also play a Sunday night game against Cleveland Nov. 13 at Heinz Field.

"[It] is always a dreaded trip coming back from a Monday night game on the West Coast," Rooney said. "But we have to be prepared for those challenges. The good teams find a way to be ready."

The Steelers also play on Halloween, Christmas Eve in Cleveland and New Year's Day, when they conclude the 16-game regular-season schedule against Detroit at Heinz Field.
"I guess we're going to be a part of everyone's holidays," Rooney said.

The Steelers will open the season Sept. 11 at home against the Tennessee Titans and play three games before they have they have the weekend of Oct. 2 off. That's earlier than most coaches would prefer.

"I think it's a good schedule," Rooney said. "Opening at home is always a good thing, and then we come right back with New England for our second home game, so we'll be off to an interesting start at the early part of the season. Then we go to a couple of places we haven't been in a long time -- Green Bay and Minnesota. Those will be some interesting road games. There are a lot of interesting pieces to it."

The Steelers and Patriots will stage a rematch of their AFC championship game Sept. 25 at Heinz Field.

The complete schedule:

Monday, August 15 --Philadelphia, 8:00pm.
Saturday, Aug. 20 -- Miami, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 26 -- at Washington, 8 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 1 -- at Carolina, 8 p.m.

Sept. 11 -- Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Sept. 18 -- at Houston, 1 p.m.
Sept. 25 -- New England, 4:15 p.m.
Oct. 2 -- Off
Oct. 10 -- at San Diego, 9 p.m.
Oct. 16 -- Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Oct. 23 -- at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Oct. 31 -- Baltimore, 9 p.m.
Nov. 6 -- at Green Bay, 4:15 p.m.
Nov. 13 -- Cleveland, 8:30 p.m.
Nov. 20 -- at Baltimore, 4:15 p.m.
Nov. 28 -- at Indianapolis, 9 p.m.
Dec. 4 -- Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Dec. 11 -- Chicago, 1 p.m.

Dec. 18 -- at Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Dec. 24 -- at Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Jan. 1 -- Detroit, 1 p.m.

(Ed Bouchette can be reached at or 412-263-3878.)

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Ed Bouchette: Bettis Decides to Play

Steelers expect him at unofficial workouts
Saturday, April 09, 2005
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Five weeks after he said he was not sure he wanted to play football again, Jerome Bettis apparently has decided he will.

Bettis, making an appearance in Philadelphia yesterday to promote asthma awareness, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he plans to play for the Steelers in 2005 after wavering about his decision since the end of last season.

"My body didn't feel good after the season," Bettis told the newspaper. "I felt pretty rough. It was difficult for me. As the days went by, my body started to recover, and I felt better.
"My love for the game hadn't wavered. It was a situation where I'd be doing myself a disservice if I retired, because I wanted to try to win a championship."

Bettis could not be reached for further comment, but the Steelers begin their unofficial workout sessions Monday in Pittsburgh, and they expect he will attend. He signed a renegotiated contract before free agency began March 2 that will pay him $1.5 million. It contains a $100,000 workout bonus if he meets certain requirements this spring that include participation in the drills and making periodic weight limits.

Early last month, Bettis said he probably would let the Steelers' coaching staff know by June 1 of his plans to play this season or not. Coach Bill Cowher, though, has planned on him being there.
"I think his mindset is that he wants to come back," Cowher said two weeks ago at the NFL meetings in Maui.

Bettis likely will remain the backup to Duce Staley, who started the first seven games at running back before a hamstring injury prompted Cowher to turn the job over to Bettis.
"As we talked about him coming back, [I said] there would be no guarantees, there would be no assurances," Cowher said of his talk with Bettis. "I'm going in open-minded as I did a year ago, and there were no guarantees a year ago.

"He's very receptive whenever we need him, he's been very good for the young players. You know what you're getting every Sunday. I've been around him for a long time and I have just tremendous respect for his passion that he brings to the game and his dependability. That's a great message for young players to see."

Bettis led the Steelers with 941 yards rushing and moved into fifth place on the NFL's career rushing list with 13,294 yards. Staley missed six full games with his injury and rushed for 830 yards. Both backs were healthy for the playoffs, and Bettis ran for 101 yards on 27 carries and Staley had 54 yards on 11 carries in an overtime victory against the Jets.

"They both are power running backs, and you'd like to think you're going to need more than one," Cowher said. "It's hard for one guy in this league anymore to finish the season.
"As it turns out, we were able to have them both through the course of the year. Most of the times, that's off the first six weeks; after that it's almost like whichever one's healthy. To have them both like we had them in the Jets' game was a nice situation."

Next season would be the 13th in the NFL and 10th with the Steelers for Bettis, 33. His 10,203 yards rushing is second on the team's career list behind Franco Harris, who had 11,950.

NOTES --The Steelers re-signed free-agent tight end Matt Cushing to a one-year contract yesterday that will pay him a $25,000 signing bonus and a $540,000 salary. Cushing, though, will count less under the salary cap ($475,000) under rules that allow veterans to earn more money than they count under the cap on certain one-year contracts. Cushing has been with the Steelers on and off since 1999, when he signed as an undrafted free agent. He also serves as the backup fullback to starter Dan Kreider.

(Ed Bouchette can be reached at or 412-263-3878.)