Plaxico Burress is back where he once belonged.
The Pittsburgh Steelers brought back the veteran wide receiver on Tuesday to provide depth at a position devastated by injuries while hoping there’s enough gas left in the 35-year-old’s tank to give the offense an added dimension near the goal line.
Burress impressed Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert during a brief workout early Tuesday even though he hasn’t played since the end of the 2011 season as a member of the New York Jets.
“He’s in really good physical condition based on the workout I just saw,” Tomlin said. “He’s got very good body control for a big man. He can drop his weight at break points and obviously he’s no stranger to football.”
The Steelers (6-4) are in need of healthy bodies at wide receiver after Jerricho Cotchery fractured his ribs late in Sunday night’s 13-10 loss to Baltimore. Antonio Brown has missed the last two games due to an ankle injury and Tomlin listed Brown as questionable for Sunday’s game against Cleveland (2-8).
The 6-foot-5 Burress spent his first five seasons in the NFL with the Steelers, who selected him with the eighth overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft. He moved on to the New York Giants in 2005 and caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the 2008 Super Bowl before his career derailed after accidentally shooting himself in a New York nightclub, leading to a gun charge that resulted in a 20-month prison sentence.
Pittsburgh courted Burress when he returned to the league last summer, though Burress opted for a more lucrative $3 million offer from the New York Jets. Though he lacked the explosion that made him one of the better deep threats in the league during his prime, Burress caught 45 passes for 612 yards and tied for the team lead with eight touchdown receptions.
The Jets opted not to bring him back, however, and Burress has spent most of the last year looking for a job. He’s finally got one on a team trying to keep its playoff chances afloat without injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is nursing a sprained right shoulder and a dislocated first rib.
Roethlisberger underwent additional testing on Tuesday, with encouraging results, though he will almost certainly miss his second straight start. Second stringer Byron Leftwich is also out after fracturing his ribs against the Ravens.
Enter Charlie Batch.
The seemingly ageless 37-year-old will fill in yet again on Sunday. Batch is 5-2 while subbing for Roethlisberger over the last decade, including a tidy 208-yard performance in a 27-0 victory over St. Louis last December.
The Steelers signed former New England Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer as insurance. Hoyer spent three seasons backing up Tom Brady with the Patriots before being released at the end of training camp in August.
Batch lacks Roethlisberger’s mobility or Leftwich’s big-time arm, but his quick release should fit in well with offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s short passing game. Tomlin doesn’t expect Haley to give the playbook an overhaul to accommodate Batch.
“The changes will be subtle and they will be made with an emphasis geared toward maximizing his strengths and minimizing his weaknesses,” Tomlin said. “We’ve got a great deal of confidence in Charlie.”
Maybe it’s because Batch – and the Steelers – have been here before.
When Roethlisberger was suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the 2010 season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, Batch stepped in and led Pittsburgh to a pair of victories after original substitute Dennis Dixon went down with a knee injury. He did the same last year against the Rams after Roethlisberger opted to rest a busted ankle.
“One thing I can say about this quarterback situation is, as uncomfortable as it may be, it’s not something we’re foreign too,” Tomlin said. “(The backups) do a great job of rallying and answering the bell.”
It’s something the Steelers believe Burress can do. If Brown can’t play, Burress’ workload could be pretty heavy for a guy who hasn’t seen a live snap since New Year’s Day. The Steelers only have three healthy receivers on the roster in Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and little-used David Gilreath.
Pittsburgh’s passing game has thrived under Haley this season, with Roethlisberger on pace for career-highs in attempts, completions, completion percentage and touchdowns before going down. The only thing the Steelers lack is a receiver who presents a mismatch in the red zone, a role Burress can fill nicely.
Batch and Burress aren’t the only familiar faces who could return this weekend.
Safety Troy Polamalu – out since Oct. 4 with a right calf injury – will run on Wednesday and Tomlin did not immediately rule him out. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who is rehabbing from ligament damage to his ankle, has been cleared for individual work though it’s uncertain when he will be cleared to practice.
Notes: To make room for Burress and Hoyer, the Steelers released DB Marshall McFadden and RB Baron Batch ... Tomlin said he doesn’t believe the injuries to Cotchery or Leftwich are season ending, adding he believes Leftwich fractured the ribs while getting sacked in the second half against the Ravens ... RB Isaac Redman, who left the Ravens game with a concussion, has responded well to testing and should practice this week.
Plaxico Burress is back where he once belonged.
- Local Sports
UPJ takes one, drops second
John Fees’ spring baseball season accurately mirrors that of his Pitt-Johnstown team.
Fees started slow, losing his first four decisions, but has rebounded nicely in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division.
Brewers ward off late Pirates rally bid
Kyle Lohse pitched effectively into the seventh inning, Carlos Gomez homered and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 Friday night.
Lohse (3-1) improved to 11-2 in his career against the Pirates, allowing one earned run in a win against them for the second time in six days.
Drama lacking sans Tiger
If professional golf saw its future at Augusta National last weekend, the sight had to be worse than choking on a 5-foot putt.
The course was there in all its splendor.
Penguins are wary of spunky Blue Jackets
Sidney Crosby is used to the attention. It comes with the territory when you’re the best hockey player in the world.
Still, the Pittsburgh Penguins star knows the spotlight becomes more acute in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Pirates power past Brewers
Andrew McCutchen hit his first homer of the season and drove in three runs, Pedro Alvarez had a three-run shot and pinch-hitter Josh Harrison broke a tie with a long ball in the seventh inning as the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the Milwaukee Brewers their first road loss, 11-2 on Thursday night.
Harrison’s two-run drive down the left field line off Rob Wooten (0-1) was the second of his career as a pinch hitter.
Jackets preparing for Game 2
The Columbus Blue Jackets don’t feel they’re doomed after blowing a two-goal lead in a Game 1 loss of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It’s not about missed chances, or feeling sorry about it,” goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said at Thursday’s optional workout, 13 hours after falling 4-3 in Pittsburgh.
- Local Sports Briefs
Jennerstown Speedway gearing for May open
Jennerstown Speedway released a very ambitious schedule on its website and continues to prepare for its 2014 reopening.
The track is set to hold a practice day for drivers as well as an open house and media day on April 26.
‘Hawks already building toward next season
Jason Spence used up his cell phone’s battery on a trip from Johnstown to his parents’ home in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Once the Johnstown Tomahawks coach got to his destination, Spence had to get creative to secure cell service across the border.
Dominant Cueto drops Pirates in matinee
That playoff loss in Pittsburgh last year? Johnny Cueto never thought about it much. So getting a chance to shut out the Pirates in a rematch wasn’t any more special.
- More Local Sports Headlines
- UPJ takes one, drops second