Steelers' Plaxico Burress says he is confident he can resuscitate career
June 9, 2013 4:00 AM
Plaxico Burress makes a catch last week during OTAs on the South Side.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
He said it once, twice, enough times that the phrase could be embroidered on his new clothing line of Plaxico's Sox:
"My job is to just go out and catch the football," Plaxico Burress said, explaining his role with the Steelers.
Really, what else would you want the 6-foot-5 receiver to do? Block? It's all Ben Roethlisberger wanted since Burress left the Steelers the first time after the quarterback's rookie season in 2004, a tall receiver. Now he has one, his first wide receiver of any note to stand taller than 6-1.
The problem as some see it is that Burress turns 36 in August, so the question seemingly even taller than he: Can he still do it, get open and catch the football?
The Steelers think he can. It is why they quickly re-signed him when he became a free agent this year.
"I'm blessed to be here," said Burress, who has not missed a practice this spring. "Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and the Rooneys gave me an opportunity to still play football. They have the confidence in me that I can still go out there and play and make an impact. I think that's the most important thing, when the opportunity comes I go out and deliver."
The Steelers signed Burress Nov. 20 after injuries knocked Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery out of the lineup. He started three games, but caught only three passes and did not suit up for two other games. With Mike Wallace gone, Burress has a chance to play more this year.
He is thankful for any opportunity after what he has been through. He went from Super Bowl hero to nearly two years in jail to being unwanted by all 32 NFL teams for most of the 2012 season, after a decent comeback year with the New York Jets in 2011.
"I know I can still play, I know I can dominate in the red zone," Burress said, and explained how he must go about doing that. "Just go out and play at a high percentage. In those one-on-one opportunities, just succeed at a high rate. I know I can. Being out there last year, I drew double coverage in the red zone without hardly playing, I think teams will have to respect that."
The story of Burress' climb to fame and then infamy in New York is well known. His 13-yard touchdown catch of an Eli Manning pass with 35 seconds left in Super Bowl XLII upset the undefeated and heavily favored New England Patriots.
Less than 10 months later, a handgun he carried in his pocket into a New York City nightclub accidentally went off and wounded him in the thigh. Burress was arrested for violating the city's concealed weapons law -- he had an expired permit from Florida -- and he ultimately agreed to serve a two-year jail sentence in a plea deal.
Burress did not come away from the experience embittered over what many believed was Michael Bloomberg's overly aggressive pursuit of his case because it involved one of the New York mayor's pet laws.
"I don't think about that," Burress said. "I lost two years but the main thing about it, I persevered through it when a lot of people thought I was finished. Here I am three years removed from that and I'm still playing football. I wake up every day, I come in here with a fresh attitude, man, ready to work, ready to play football.
"That's the most important thing of it all. Everything I've been through, I'm still able to stand up, look at myself in the mirror and be happy and come out here and play football, do what I love to do."
He said he learned from it, too. "It makes you smarter, you make better decisions, you think things through. People involved in your life, your family and kids, make decisions based off of them rather than be selfish and based on yourself."
He's trying to do that on the practice fields as well.
"I'm trying to give these young boys all the knowledge I can from over the years. When you've played as many years as I have and pretty much seen all the defenses, you can give those guys the wisdom and knowledge you've learned the past 12, 13 years. My thing is to help them along the way and when my number is called, answer the call."
The numbers at wide receiver line up this way: Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are the projected starters with old vets Burress and Cotchery behind them. Somewhere, third-round draft pick Markus Wheaton must fit in, although he's not available to practice until June 14 because of final exams at Oregon State. The team kept only four wide receivers to start the 2012 season but there was not another who played well enough to make them keep five, as they almost always have.
"I don't know what my role is going to be,'' Burress said. "I don't count numbers. You don't know what will happen on the injury front. Just stay ready. I'm not just learning just one position, I'm learning all three. Whatever happens, I have to be ready to run routes and make plays."