The Steelers want to make sure that they don't run short of running backs like last year.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Duce Staley made the Pittsburgh Steelers' 53-man roster Saturday despite an uneven preseason.
Staley dropped to No. 3 on the depth chart at running back and may not dress for some early-season games.
Staley's roster status was in doubt -- even coach Bill Cowher said so -- after the three-time 1,000-yard rusher with the Eagles averaged 2.2 yards per carry during exhibition play. The Steelers showed their concern at the position by trading Friday with New England for rookie Patrick Cobbs.
But Cowher recalled Saturday how injuries briefly left the Steelers with only one healthy running back last season, even when they were carrying Jerome Bettis in addition to starter Willie Parker, Staley and Verron Haynes.
"We've got to be able to use these guys to where they're not going to be hit out by November and December," Cowher said. "It's very important that we're able to keep these guys fresh. It's a big key for us, a team that runs the football."
Haynes, used mostly as a third-down back during his first four NFL seasons, is now Parker's backup despite never carrying more than 12 times in a game.
Staley, the Steelers' most experienced runner, figured to go into the season as the backup. He was signed to start two years ago and was averaging 101 yards per game through seven games, but has played little since then after injuring a hamstring.
Cobbs, the Patriots' leading rusher during the preseason, won't begin practicing until Sunday. However, it seems likely he will be activated for games ahead of Staley because he also plays special teams.
"The kid had a very good preseason, watching him run the ball, catch it and cover kicks," Cowher said. "He was very impressive."
Cowher also designated Ryan Clark as the starting free safety ahead of Tyrone Carter and rookie Anthony Smith. Clark, formerly with the Redskins, was the Steelers' only major off-season pickup. He signed as a free agent after Chris Hope left to play for Tennessee.
Reid ahead of Holmes
Willie Reid, the third-round draft pick from Florida State, will open ahead of first-rounder Santonio Holmes as the punt-return man. Cowher hasn't made up his mind about the kickoff-return players for Thursday's opener against Miami, but Holmes and Reid were used there during the preseason.
"We've never really gotten the kicking return phase going," Cowher said. "I know we've played different people and combinations, but the fact of the matter is we haven't been in sync returning the ball on punts or kickoffs."
After a 15-14, last-play loss to Carolina on Thursday gave the Steelers only their second winless preseason in 40 years, Cowher said these final roster cuts might be the most difficult he has made.
But there were no surprises when the Steelers cut 20 players Saturday, even though quarterbacks Omar Jacobs and Shane Boyd were among them. That leaves only starter Ben Roethlisberger and backup Charlie Batch on the roster, but fifth-round pick Jacobs will join the practice squad unless he is claimed by another team.
Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, a former high school QB, will be the emergency quarterback.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.