By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Plaxico Burress told Pittsburgh Steelers fans to dust off those No. 80 jerseys they put in the back of their closets in 2004 when the free-agent wideout left for the New York Giants.
Burress returned to Pittsburgh for a workout Tuesday, signed with the Steelers, got his old number from practice squad tight end Jamie McCoy and practiced Wednesday for the first time with former teammates like Max Starks, Casey Hampton and Larry Foote. Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season (2004) was Burress’ last with the Steelers, but the wideout said those days and all his off-field troubles were far in his past.
“Just walking around and seeing some of the faces that were here before, that was a great experience when I got in here (Wednesday),” Burress said. “I wanted to get back to playing football, but to go where I have a certain comfort level certainly is the best possible situation for me.”
Burress noted that while he hasn’t watched the Steelers too often this season from his home in Florida, he knows the team can contend for the Super Bowl if things fall the right way the rest of this season.
“Just the chance to compete for a championship, that’s always the goal here in Pittsburgh,” Burress said. “So, for me, I just want to come in here and make an impact teaching the younger guys some old tricks that I’ve learned and just go out and play football and have fun. So, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Burress, who trains in the offseason with Steelers wideout Antonio Brown, has been training for several months to stay in shape in case he got the call to work out for an NFL team.
“You can’t simulate the physical part of football and obviously being out there in games, but I’ve been playing this game for a while and have a few tricks up my sleeves,” Burress said. “I’m sure that I can get in there and make some plays if my number is called, so we’ll see what happens this week.”
Almost since the week that Burress left in free agency, Roethlisberger tried to get the Steelers to secure another tall receiver to help in the red zone and provide a bigger target for him downfield. It’s ironic that he won’t be able to throw to Burress for a while, but Charlie Batch — the Steelers starting quarterback against the Cleveland Browns this week — looks forward to it.
“He knows how to catch the ball, and he’s been very successful in this league,” Batch said. “He’s a Super Bowl champion, so I wouldn’t expect anything less from him now that he’s back. When he left this team years ago, nobody wanted him to leave. That’s just the business of football, but it’s a win-win for both to have him back now that he’s come full circle here with the Steelers.”
Steelers wideout Mike Wallace offered an interesting perspective, as he signed a contract just prior to the final preseason game and had a short time to learn offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s new offense.
“I think he’ll pick it up,” Wallace said. “When you’ve been in the league as long as Plax has … there really aren’t too many things that teams do different. You have different route names and things like that, but I think by game time he’ll be able to get in there and help us out.”
Burress believed that there was a trust level and comfort level with the Steelers that would be beneficial in his development this week. So, he saw no reason why he couldn’t contribute immediately.
“I don’t see why not,” Burress said. “I should be able to pick up some of the things in this offense. I understand coverages, and it’s all about getting to the spots where you need to be. And I have faith that Charlie will make the plays.”
With the Steelers health situation at wide receiver this week, there’s a good chance that Burress will get at least a few opportunities to make plays as well.