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Steelers speak out in favor of Clarett

Steelers running back Jerome Bettis believes he was ready for the NFL as a 250-pound sophomore at Notre Dame in 1991.

“Physically, I was ready,” he said.

But Bettis believes a bigger issue with running back Maurice Clarett, who is suing the NFL for entry into the 2004 draft after only one season at Ohio State, is his mental and emotional readiness.

“Physically, he has all the tools and he’s ready to play,” Bettis said. “What teams and coaches may be concerned about is his mental capacity in terms of grasping the blitzes and things of that nature.

“Personally, I think he’ll be fine. I think he should be allowed to play.”

Bettis, who spent only three years at Notre Dame, rushed for 1,429 yards as a 21-year-old rookie with the Los Angeles Rams in 1993.

“If this kid wants to play, he deserves the opportunity to play,” Bettis said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this. I think the NCAA and Ohio State have taken this and made a little too much of it.”

Still, Bettis said going to the NFL early involves more than just playing football. “You have to live,” he said. “It’s not just you in a dorm room. You have a home. You have a place where you live. You pay your bills. You do all the normal things that the normal adult does that you didn’t have to do (in college). That changes everything. You have to be strong mentally at that young age to be able to handle it.”

Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair, who was not a regular starter until his third NFL season, agrees with Bettis. “You can have the best athletic ability, but before you can really be dominant in the NFL, you have to be ready mentally.”

Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen said the fact that Clarett, 19, has been suspended by Ohio State should stamp his ticket to the NFL.

“If the guy’s not in school and he has no chance to be in school and he’s able to compete in the NFL at this point, I don’t see why they don’t let him play.

“Try to go back to school, but if you try and you can’t, let him play.”


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