PITTSBURGH – Duce Staley is going to carry the ball for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday for the first time in almost 11 months.

The Steelers and their running back can only hope his return was worth the wait.

With Jerome Bettis not expected to play because of a quadriceps injury, Staley will be activated for only the second time this season when the Steelers visit Green Bay on Sunday. He missed all but one day of training camp following knee surgery and has been on the field for only a couple of snaps this season. Staley has yet to carry the ball.

Staley has rushed for 5,637 yards and 23 touchdowns in parts of eight NFL seasons.

With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out following arthroscopic knee surgery, Pittsburgh was already short-handed on offense.

“We all have faith in Duce to step in and get the job done,” said Willie Parker, who leads the team with three 100-yard rushing performances in seven games. “The running game will be ready, just as it always is, and we’ll be ready to run even more without Ben in there.”

Losing Bettis, the NFL’s fifth career leading rusher, compounds that more. Bettis has been used in situations where the Steelers need critical short yardage or want to run down the clock to protect a lead.

“That will be a tough situation,” Bettis said. “But it’s not like we haven’t dealt with bigger issues than that. That’s why we have quality backups, because everybody is capable of playing well. That’s what we need right now.”

Bettis, injured late in Pittsburgh’s 27-13 win over Cincinnati on Oct. 23, has not started a game this season but has been second to Parker in carries and yards in all but one of the games he has played.

Staley, who began last season as the starter after being acquired as a free agent from the Philadelphia Eagles, rushed for 707 yards during the first seven games in 2004 but a hamstring injury limited him to only 41 carries the rest of the season. He hasn’t carried since the Steelers’ 41-27 loss to New England in the AFC title game in January.

Staley returned Sept. 25 against the Patriots, but only appeared for three plays. He was inactive the following week when Bettis returned from a preseason calf injury and hasn’t dressed for a game since.

“It’s been a long time,” Staley said. “I’m looking forward to it and am excited about it. I feel pretty good.”

Earlier, coach Bill Cowher questioned whether Staley would be 100 percent this season, but Staley said he close to being so.

The last three games, Pittsburgh has used a running back rotation where Parker has roughly twice the carries as Bettis. The Steelers are not revealing their Sunday plan for spreading the ball around.

“You’ll have to ask the coaches, but I’m definitely a competitor,” said Staley, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher with Philadelphia. “I want to out and help my team win. It goes both ways, if I have to sit down to help my team win, I would do the same. You saw that the last couple weeks.

“I still love playing the game, still want to play the game, still want to be productive. That’s what it’s all about.”

AP-ES-11-04-05 1912EST

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