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Both backs split carries in first Jets game

PITTSBURGH -- Running backs Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley
split time during practice Tuesday, and Steelers coach Bill Cowher
might not announce a starter until Saturday.

"They're both going to play," Cowher said after the Steelers
resumed practicing following a three-day layoff prior to their
divisional playoff game against the New York Jets. "We'll see how
we are on game day."

Bettis (941 yards) and Staley (830 yards) split time during the
regular season, but only after Staley injured a hamstring Oct. 31
against New England.

Bettis, used mostly as a short-yardage back until then, stepped
in with six 100-yard games in as many starts before sitting out
Jan. 2 at Buffalo with a sprained ankle. Staley started that day,
but was pulled from what was a meaningless game for Pittsburgh
after carrying eight times for 21 yards.

Staley had four 100-yard games in a five-game stretch before he
was injured, but didn't gain more than 51 yards in any game during
the second half of the season. He appeared to have less
acceleration and power after returning, but Cowher was happy
Tuesday.

"He looked good today," the coach said

Bettis was the more productive back as the regular season ended,
but expects Cowher to go with whichever back does well early
against the Jets.

Staley started Pittsburgh's 17-6 victory over the Jets on Dec.
12, but was lifted after being held to 51 yards on 16 carries.
Bettis came on to gain 57 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown and
threw a scoring pass on a halfback option play.

"It doesn't really matter, because I promise you both of us are
going to play," Bettis said. "It's a two-headed monster. The guy
who lines up there (to start the game) I don't think is too
significant."

To Bettis, it doesn't matter if he knows in advance who will
start. Bettis didn't know he would start Nov. 7 against
Philadelphia until several hours before the game, and he responded
with a season-high 149 yards on 33 carries.

"You have to approach this game, as a running back, as if
you're going to start," Bettis said. "Early this season I
approached it that way, even when I got in for only one or two
plays.

"It's a matter of how the team is doing, of who's got the hot
hand."

Cornerback Deshea Townsend returned to practice after missing
the Buffalo game with a broken hand and probably will start, though
he will wear a protective soft cast.

Willie Williams, who became the other cornerback starter after
Chad Scott injured a knee Oct. 17 against Dallas, probably will
stay in the lineup although Scott is healthy again. Scott, the
Steelers' highest-paid defensive player, would play in the
extra-back nickel and dime alignments.