Steelers Notebook: Ward believes team would have always found spot for Bettis

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Hines Ward, who was one of Jerome Bettis' closest friends on the team, said he doesn't recall a situation where the former Steelers running back faked an injury in 2000 because he felt threatened about losing a roster spot to Richard Huntley.

Ward, who joined the Steelers in 1998, two years after Bettis was acquired in a draft-day trade, said his former teammate was always being challenged for a starting job by other running backs, including Huntley and Duce Staley, and even lost his starting job for a brief period to Amos Zereoue.

"For the last couple years of Jerome's career, it was always something, especially playing running back, whether it was you're getting too old or Richard came in ... Amos Zereoue, everyone was high on him when we went to the spread offense. He was our feature guy.

"Jerome was always in the mix, but I always felt there was a spot for Jerome. You can't coach the leadership and intangibles he had, on and off the field."

But in his new autobiography, "The Bus. My Life in and out of a Helmet," Bettis said he faked an injury in training camp that year so he wouldn't be cut from the roster in favor of Huntley, who turned down a $2 million signing bonus from the Miami Dolphins to remain with the Steelers.

"Maybe he felt threatened that way," Ward said. "He saw the team evolving to more of a passing team, to a more speedier running back who was good after the catch. But, at the end of the day, when we needed to go where we wanted, we had to rely on Jerome to run the ball, especially the year we won the Super Bowl. Those last four games that year, he carried this team and it started with that Chicago game.

"We, as players, we all feel threatened once in our career, to a draft pick, or through what people say. That year with Richard Huntley, if he felt that way, he put in three, four, five more good years after that. I don't buy into that."

Injury update

DE Brett Keisel (groin) returned to practice and said he feels fine. TE Jerame Tuman (back) did not practice.

Missed opportunity

On his first running play at left tackle, Trai Essex had a chance to make a block to spring Willie Parker for a long gain against the Washington Redskins. And he missed.

Essex never blocked anyone on the play and Parker was tackled for a 1-yard loss. After the play, Parker angrily said something to Essex.

It was not a good way to start for Essex, who was getting another chance to play left tackle while the Steelers continue their search to find a backup for Marvel Smith.

"I wish I had that block back," said Essex, who started at left tackle in place of Smith [back spasms] against the Redskins. "I was hesitant. The guy I was supposed to block came up outside and the guy who ended up filling his spot was right in front of me and I hesitated. [Parker] talked to me about it after that play. It would have been a big play."

Essex, though, said he settled down after that and likely will continue in the same role as last season -- backing up Smith and also being able to play guard in an emergency. Right tackle Max Starks, who appears to have lost his starting job to Willie Colon, is expected to remain on the right side after being used at left tackle in the first two preseason games.

After that, the Steelers are out of viable options at tackle.

"The coaches said just be versatile," Essex said. "It will probably be the same as last year, just be able to play multiple positions. I feel comfortable with that. Wherever they use me, just perform."


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