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Bus may be in shop for opener
Bettis listed as questionable for Steelers' opener
Posted: Tuesday September 07, 1999 08:52 AM
Bettis, limited to less than a full week of practice during training camp by a left knee injury, is listed as questionable for Sunday's season opener at Cleveland.
Bettis' status will be updated depending on how much -- and how long -- he practices.
"I want to see him go back-to-back days," Cowher said.
Bettis, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in all three of his seasons with the Steelers, resumed practicing a week ago following his second arthroscopic knee surgery in seven months.
But he backed off from contact work late last week when the soreness returned, and he did not play in Saturday's 16-14 exhibition loss in Buffalo.
Bettis has had no contact work since a 21-3 loss to Jacksonville on Dec. 28 completed the Steelers' season-ending five-game losing streak. The streak is tied with San Diego's as the longest in the NFL going into the season.
"You can't help recognize that if you don't play a game in the preseason and haven't had a lot of practice, you're not going to be at the top of your game," Cowher said.
"It's not done in the NFL. The only player I can remember doing it is Deion Sanders, who went 2-for-3 [in baseball] and came in here returning kicks and making interceptions. It was amazing."
Even if Bettis enjoys a pain-free week and is cleared to play in the first Steelers-Browns game since 1995, Cowher acknowledged it is unrealistic to expect the five-time 1,000-yard rusher to be in top game condition.
Because game speed is so different from practice speed, it is difficult for an injured player to regain his timing and instincts just by practicing, Cowher said.
"I've talked to Jerome about it. It's a repetition thing. He's rusty now and he's the first to admit it," Cowher said. "He isn't where he needs to be. But it's a 16-week season and it's important to keep that in perspective."
Even if Bettis plays, backup Richard Huntley and rookie Amos Zereoue will likely get most of the carries Sunday night against the expansion Browns. Huntley was Bettis' backup last year until his fumbling caused Cowher to lose confidence in him late in the season.
Zereoue, a third-round draft pick from West Virginia, led the Steelers with 170 yards on 43 carries during the preseason.
"You can't expect Jerome, off his preseason work, to be at the top of his game," Cowher said. "It is going to take a couple of weeks and it would be foolish to expect it to be otherwise."
Bettis' absence clearly affected the Steelers' offense during a 1-3 preseason that saw the starters go scoreless over three quarters in the final two games.
There is suspicion that new offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride held back part of the offense for the Browns, especially many of the downfield passing plays that have returned to the Steelers' play book since former coordinator Ray Sherman departed.
But an intricate offense that requires the quarterback and receivers to adjust on the fly and read defenses identically cannot always be installed and perfected on the practice field, Cowher said.
"We certainly haven't had a game plan in practice for any one team," Cowher said. "I can't say I'm pleased with the degree of execution. We must be much more consistent.
"It's going to take some time. Repetition is the only answer. But we're very close."
Quarterback Kordell Stewart, who slumped badly late last season, was 5-of-8 and had two passes dropped in Saturday's 16-14 loss in Buffalo.
"His mindset is very good right now," Cowher said.
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