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Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, still limping on an injured right knee nearly three weeks after he last played, insists he'll be ready for Saturday's playoff game against New England.

The Steelers have downplayed the severity of an injury that sidelined Bettis for their meaningless 16-6 loss at Tennessee on Dec. 22, and he is listed as probable.

But Bettis was hobbling noticeably before practice Tuesday, and a bulky brace that extended from mid-thigh to just above his ankle seemed out of place for a supposedly minor injury.

"I'm not a full bowl of salad," said Bettis, who predicted last week he would be close to 100-percent healthy for the playoffs. "But the brace gives me a comfort level. And if I'm not comfortable with it, I won't wear it."

Coach Bill Cowher alluded to Bettis' injury when he mentioned the benefits of last weekend's bye, saying, "Considering what took place against Tennessee . . . and our situation with Jerome, I think it's going to be a big plus having that extra week off."

Bettis wasn't the only Steelers star helped by the week off. All-Pro center Dermontti Dawson (strained calf muscle) almost certainly wouldn't have been ready had the Steelers played last weekend.

Dawson sat out of practice Tuesday, but is expected to work today. He is listed as questionable.

Ex-lineman sues over drug use

PITTSBURGH -- Former offensive lineman Steve Courson is suing to increase his NFL pension, arguing the league's laissez-faire enforcement of its anti-drug policy led him to take steroids and develop a heart condition.

In a lawsuit received Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Courson claims his pension should be increased from $1,750 a month to one of its highest levels because the NFL refused to stop him from abusing drugs and alcohol.

The NFL's largest disability benefit is $200,000 a year, for injured players who are permanently disabled. Players whose illnesses are not related to football receive lesser amounts.

Attorney James Zeszutek says Courson's argument is similar to that of former San Diego Chargers guard Walt Sweeney, who claimed the NFL pushed painkilling drugs on him and helped him become an addict. The league was ordered in January to pay him $1.8 million.

Courson, whose size and strength once earned him weightlifting titles and the nickname of the "Incredible Hulk," played for the Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1977-85.

A part-time starter on Pittsburgh's last Super Bowl title team in 1979, Courson says there was "tremendous pressure" to rely on strength-enhancing steroids, although he admits more successful teammates such as Jack Ham and Jack Lambert adamantly refused to use them.

Around the league

The Minnesota Vikings put middle linebacker Jeff Brady on injured reserve Tuesday, possibly ending his three-year career with the team. Brady, who lost his starting job three weeks ago because of a neck injury that had contributed to his mediocre performance late in the regular season, suffered a thigh injury on the opening kickoff of Saturday's win over the New York Giants.

Three Miami Dolphins underwent knee surgery Tuesday. Wide receiver Brett Perriman and offensive tackle Richmond Webb both had arthroscopic surgery on their left knees, and Karim Abdul-Jabbar had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.

A Maryland assault charge will bring Baltimore Ravens running back Bam Morris back to Texas next month for a probation revocation hearing. Attorneys for the former Texas Tech star agreed to a Jan. 12 hearing date during a conference held in State District Judge Sue Pirtle's chambers Tuesday. Pirtle could sentence Morris, who remains free on $500,000 bond, to up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

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