Plaxico Burress returns to beef up Steelers receiving corps ravaged by injury
The tall guy wearing the red Washington Nationals baseball cap looked pleased as he walked through the Steelers foyer. He had reasons to be. Plaxico Burress not only was back in the NFL, but back where it all began a dozen years ago.
"It's good to be back," Burress said not long after he signed a one-year contract with the team that drafted him in the first round in 2000.
He said he's not sure how the Steelers will use him, but he will get the game plan today along with the rest of his new teammates and does not think it will be a problem.
Although Todd Haley overhauled the Steelers offense upon his hiring as coordinator this year, Burress said they use a terminology that is familiar to him.
They will need that because Burress, who is 6 feet 5, will be the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver Sunday in Cleveland. Jerricho Cotchery has broken ribs and Antonio Brown might be a game away from returning from a sprained ankle that has kept him out of the past two.
Burress, 35, looked thinner and his arms more muscular than the last time he walked through those doors at the training facility on the South Side. He left for good after the 2004 season as an unrestricted free agent. He also took a detour to prison, pleading guilty to a gun charge after accidentally shooting himself in the thigh at a Manhattan nightclub in November 2008 and serving 20 months in prison.
Only seven players remain from that 2004 team, but one of them will be throwing him passes if he plays against the Browns -- Charlie Batch, who will start Sunday. Another likely urged the Steelers to sign him, injured Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger pushed for the Steelers to sign Burress in 2011 as soon as the lockout ended. He paid them a visit at their Saint Vincent College training camp but ultimately signed a more lucrative deal one-year, $3 million contract with the New York Jets. That set in motion Cotchery asking for and receiving his release from the Jets, then signing with the Steelers. Now, Cotchery's broken ribs have led Burress back to Pittsburgh.
He has not played nor been in a training camp since last season, even though he was productive with 45 receptions for 612 yards and eight touchdowns with the Jets in 2011.
"He's in really good physical condition based on the workout I just saw," coach Mike Tomlin said at his Tuesday news conference. "He's got very good body control for a big man. He can drop his weight at break points. Obviously, he's no stranger to football."
The Steelers received good news about Roethlisbeger's injury, so much so that Tomlin slapped a "doubtful" status on him for the game Sunday. That technically means he has a 25 percent chance to play.
"He had additional tests done" Tuesday, Tomlin said. "All things are very positive in terms of where he is. We are encouraged about his status."
Roethlisberger has an SC sprain to his right shoulder and a dislocated rib. He was on the sideline with his arm in a sling Sunday.
In other injury news: Tomlin confirmed Leftwich's broken ribs, safety Troy Polamalu (calf) will begin running today, but Tomlin said he is questionable for Sunday after missing the past six games. Defensive end Ziggy Hood will be questionable with a "lumbar spine sprain." Running back Isaac Redman has performed well on his concussion tests and could play. Wide receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) did "good" work Tuesday, and Tomlin called him questionable for Sunday, as will be offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) who the coach said will work out individually this week.
Like Burress, new Steelers quarterback Brian Hoyer also played at Michigan State. The New England Patriots drafted him in the fourth round in 2009, but, after three seasons with them, let him go.
He managed to play in 13 games for the Patriots, completing 27 of 43 passes for 286 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
He was No. 3 in New England but will back up Batch when the Steelers play the Browns Sunday because their other two quarterbacks are out with shoulder and rib injuries.
Tomlin said he was not sure when Leftwich's ribs were injured, but "if I had to guess, I'd say the last sack might be something that you could point to, potentially."
Baltimore's James Ihedigbo sacked Leftwich with about 4 1/2 minutes left in the Sunday night game, but the quarterback was grabbing his rib cage in some pain before that. Nevertheless, Tomlin defended his decision to stick with Leftwich the entire game rather than insert Batch.
"Byron did a nice job of communicating with us. I knew that he had a certain level of discomfort but I didn't see anything in his performance, coupled with those discussions, to lead me to believe that he needed to be pulled."
Batch will make his eighth start in his 10th season with the Steelers (he's 5-2) and fourth in the past three seasons.
"We've got a great deal of confidence in Charlie," Tomlin said. "One thing that I can say about this quarterback situation, as uncomfortable as it may be or may appear to be, it is not something that we're foreign to unfortunately.
"We've been as far as three and four deep, in terms of playing quarterbacks in recent years. Definitely in '09 and '10. Those guys do an awesome job of rallying and answering the bell. We expect them to. So, we're excited about him preparing and leading us this week."
• To make room for Burress and Hoyer, the Steelers released Baron Batch, although the second-year running back could be signed to the practice squad, and linebacker Marshall McFadden, who was signed off their practice squad Thursday when linebacker Chris Carter went on injured reserve.
• The Steelers also worked out quarterback Mike Kafka and wide receiver Derrick Williams before signing the other two.
• Tomlin said he is unsure who will start at halfback Sunday and how he will use Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer and, if he's healthy, Redman. The three rotated early Sunday before Redman's injury in the first half, and the other two then split the carries.
Said Tomlin: "My preference would be to have a healthy, solidified featured runner, but I don't always get what I want in this business, obviously, for a variety of reasons. All of those guys have been nicked in some form or fashion. We've dealt with it to the best of our abilities. They've done a nice job of being productive when given an opportunity, but the circumstances themselves have created what we've done with the running backs at this point."
First Published November 21, 2012 12:00 am