WIDE RECEIVER: POSITION BATTLE
By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — The Pittsburgh Steelers have 11 wide receivers on their training camp roster, but as a team that rarely uses five-wide sets more than half will be cut before the preseason games have come to an end.
Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are believed to be the top three returning wideouts, and 12-year veteran Plaxico Burress probably didn’t get re-signed just to get cut. That would leave just one spot remaining, which is likely to be taken by third-round draft pick Markus Wheaton from Oregon State. A sixth roster spot for a receiver is highly unlikely.
“I look at guys like Antonio Brown and how he stretches the football field and how he makes big plays down the field,” Burress said. “For Emmanuel, I think this is going to be his breakout season. Jerricho Cotchery is the most consistent receiver that I have been around the past 9-10 years.
“He is tough over the middle. So, we’re all out here just trying to get better in the passing game and work as much as possible with our quarterbacks. We just want to try and execute. My job is to come in here and compete. My motivation is to come into camp and work to be a starter.
“I think that everybody on this team should have that mindset,” Burress added. “If you don’t, you ought to come into camp to compete and look to be a starter. If everyone has that mindset, I think we’ll have a championship-caliber football team, because we have a lot of talent in our room.”
Basically, six players are vying for either that final roster addition or practice-squad spots. That group includes Justin Brown, the Steelers’ first of two sixth-round picks; Reggie Dunn, Derek Moye, J.D. Woods, David Gilreath and Kashif Moore. Brown, 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, played for Oklahoma last year after spending the early part of his college career at Penn State.
“I wouldn’t say it’s guaranteed that we’ll keep just five guys, but it will be at least five,” Steelers first-year receivers coach Richard Mann said.
“And I wouldn’t count out any of the young kids from making the team. We’ll surely have a couple receivers on the practice squad so opportunities are there.”
Moye, a former Penn Stater and Rochester, Pa. native, is a 6-5, 210-pound speedster who was with the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints before signing with the Steelers practice squad in early December 2012. Moore had an even more eventful year. He originally was signed by the Cincinnati Bengals, but also spent time with Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers and Houston Texans before signing with the Steelers in late January 2013.
“Last year was a good experience for me, and since the Steelers are a team that I’ve followed my entire life I’m very happy to be here,” Moye said. “But I’m not just satisfied with that. I want to make the team and contribute, because I believe I have a lot to offer with my size and speed.”
Gilreath is considered to be a second-year player. He was signed from the Steelers practice squad to their active roster last season in late December, but he also spent time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who claimed him off the Steelers practice squad earlier in the season. He also was with the Buffalo Bills, St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts in 2011.
Dunn is a rookie free agent from Utah, while Woods is a 6-foot, 203-pound free-agent rookie from West Virginia. So, there is an interesting mix of youth and experience for the Steelers to choose from to compose a receiver corps.
“We have a lot of talented players on this team, and I expect our passing game to be a lot better this year,” Brown said. “We have tall receivers, fast receivers and tough receivers. Sure, we won’t have Mike Wallace this year, but changes happen every year in this league. You can’t sit here and dwell on it.
“We’re hear at training camp to improve ourselves and get better as a team, and the harder we work the better we’ll be this season. A lot of guys have to step up this season for us to get back in the playoffs, and that includes me. But I know what I need to do. I just have to go out and do it.”
Some believe at this stage in his career, Burress will be nothing more than a red-zone threat, which would be a luxury for any team. Burress, however, did not believe he should be characterized in that way.
“I guess it’s like me and Tom Brady are the grandpas in this league,” Burress said. “But, like I’ve said, I’m not worried about anything like that. I know that I still can go out there and play this game and do it at a high level. So, you just have to go out and lay all your chips on the line and show what you can do.
“I really believe that I’m here for a reason. They brought me in here to come out and contribute and compete and have an impact and guide these young guys to learn the game of football from a mental standpoint and help them brush up on some of the things that they don’t do well.”
And maybe that guidance was the missing ingredient from the Steelers wideouts last season.