Steelers hope rapport between Roethlisberger, Burress produces
Ben Roethlisberger rolls to his right, looks downfield and spots Plaxico Burress in single coverage near the sideline. Burress catches the ball perfectly on his fingertips as he adeptly stays in bounds. The cornerback has no chance to defend because of Roethlisberger's pass placement and Burress' height and leaping ability.
It's just like old times for the Steelers passing game in Latrobe — or, more precisely, just like 2004. By NFL standards, it's almost ancient times. But while Burress no longer is the Steelers' primary receiver two weeks away from his 36th birthday, he still possesses recognizable ability and an unmistakable chemistry with Roethlisberger.
Or exactly the kind they developed during Roethlisberger's rookie season, when it was the 6-foot-5 Burress' playmaking ability that greatly accelerated the quarterback's learning curve and helped him become an overnight success. He even assisted Roethlisberger in choosing his outfit for his first national TV appearance with David Letterman.
Now, it is Roethlisberger who is trying to repay the favor, helping to extend Burress' career less than a year after it appeared to be over.
“We can diagram and understand a coverage with just us being out there and not getting a lot of reps,” Burress said Monday. “I think that's a rapport that a lot of quarterbacks and receivers dream about, but it kind of comes naturally to us. We can make adjustments on the fly. We see the same coverages, and we can come to the sideline and I can say something, and we know exactly what we're talking about. It's special.”
The Steelers are counting upon that bond between veteran quarterback and veteran wide receiver to help them make up for some of the offense they lost when Mike Wallace took off for Miami — even if it wasn't readily apparent when, after being out of the league most of last season, Burress rejoined the Steelers for the final month of the season and made four catches in three games, one for a touchdown.
It came more than 12 years after he made his first catch for the Steelers, one thrown by Kent Graham — yes, it was that long ago.
The Steelers are hoping that with a full training camp — and it would be Burress' first in the NFL in five years because of the gun law violation that put him in prison for 20 months and a 2011 camp injury — Burress and Big Ben can again be an effective situational passing combination — especially in the red zone, where Burress excelled two years ago while making eight touchdown catches for the Jets and gave him 34 scoring receptions over a four-season span.
“It's one of those deals where if I get single coverage, I think everyone on the field knows where the ball's going,” Burress said. “We had a couple of instances last year — the Cleveland game — where they were kind of rolling the coverage to me, and we put Antonio (Brown) on the back side and in the slot and he was wide open, walking into the end zone. Those are some of the wrinkles we hope to add, and defenses are going to have to adjust to accordingly.”
Roethlisberger hasn't said so publicly, but he wanted Burress to play a bigger role after the receiver rejoined the Steelers.
“The guys we have here, I think, are more than capable of doing their job — Antonio (Brown), Emmanuel (Sanders), J-Co (Jerricho Cotchery), Plax — and we'll see what (rookie Markus) Wheaton can do. I think those guys will be just fine,” Roethlisberger said. “They don't need to go out and be Mike Wallace. They just need to go and be themselves, and we'll be fine.”
A Burress resembling that of two seasons ago would be just fine for the Steelers, who don't mind reliving the old days.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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