Famous Amos "The Guy" - By Glenn T. Altergott
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|As the Steelers wrap up a month's worth of off-season workouts, Amos Zereoue can only wonder what he can do with the football if he's "the guy."
When he was "the guy" at a Long Island, N.Y., high school, he produced 5,360 rushing yards and 59 touchdowns during his career.
When he was "the guy" for three seasons at West Virginia University, he set school records with 786 carries, 4,086 rushing yards and 21 100-yard games while ranking second in career TDs with 40.
Now, in his fifth season as a pro, Zereoue hopes to be famous again. All he needs, he says, is the chance to be an every-down starter at halfback.
"I thought that way last year before the season started. I feel the same way now," Zereoue said Tuesday on the first of three days of "team school" sessions.
"I know I can play ball. It's just a matter of me getting to do it here or someone else."
Don't get the impression that Zereoue is in a start-me-or-trade-me mode. But like most athletes, he wants to be a starter. And maybe, this will be the year in which he unseats the incumbent, Jerome Bettis.
When the Steelers began three weeks of coaching sessions last month, Bettis showed up looking as svelte as he has in years. Obviously, Bettis wants to prove that in his 11th pro season - at age 31 - he can still be the dominating power back he was for most of his career with the Steelers.
Even though he looks slim and trim right now - the Steelers list Bettis at 5-foot-11 and 256 pounds - he's an aging war horse trying to tread where few men go. It's rare that a man his age, a man with so much wear in tear, a man who missed the playoffs the past two seasons with injuries, can be "the guy" in the National Football League.
By comparing their statistics the past two seasons, Bettis and Zereoue have racked up similar numbers in some regards. Bettis has averaged 4.1 yards per carry and has scored 14 touchdowns. Zereoue has averaged 4.2 yards per carry and has scored 13 TDs.
But in other areas, the 26-year-old Zereoue (5-8, 207) has the edge. He's caught 63 passes compared to just 17 by Bettis. With the frequency in which the Steelers threw the football last season with Tommy Maddox at quarterback, it makes more sense to have Zereoue on the field.
And in this age of salary-cap football, maybe the Steelers are thinking about releasing Bettis, or restructuring his contract.
Two years ago, Bettis signed a six-year, $30 million deal with a $5 million signing bonus. His salary cap hit this year is $3.8 million that includes his base salary of $2.75 million.
Last year, Zereoue signed a four-year contract that included a $2.1 million signing bonus. His base salary this year is $1.4 million.
"Same as last year," Steelers running backs coach Dick Hoak said when asked to assess the state of affairs at the position he coaches. "Same guys. We have three capable backs.
"Amos had a big year (last year). He took over when Jerome was hurt and played well. Amos is fine. Amos is healthy. Jerome is healthy. And don't forget about 'Fu.' We have three guys capable of starting in this league. It's good competition."
As Hoak mentioned, third-team running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala is a candidate for playing time, although he has a long history of getting hurt.
And don't forget about second-year pro Verron Haynes, who doubled as a fullback and halfback last year. But so far in off-season workouts, Haynes has practiced strictly at halfback. He's been told he'll report to training camp as a halfback.
"I have no doubts that I can carry the ball at this level," Haynes said.
If the Steelers secretly think Haynes can run the ball effectively, might that strengthen their case for releasing Bettis as a cost-cutting measure?
"Where are you going with this?" Hoak said. "All I know is that Jerome is here now. He'll be here on July 25 (when the Steelers to training camp)."
Meanwhile, Zereoue will just bide his time. After "team school" ends Thursday, he'll keep on preparing himself as if he'll be "the guy" this year.
"Hopefully, it's a competition," he said. "Then, each guy can go out there and show what he can do. I'm going to approach it like I'm going to be the guy.
"I can't go on what happened last year," added Zereoue, who led the Steelers with 762 rushing yards (Bettis had 666). "This is a new year. I have to go out there and prove I can be the guy. It's not personal. It's business."