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Steelers Burress thinks 1st touchdown catch could get him going

Thursday, September 27, 2001

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

One threshold must be crossed in order to unleash the fury and talent bottled up in 6-feet-5 3/4-inch Plaxico Burress and send him on his way to production city.

Plaxico Burress I just need to get in the end zone one time. (Peter Diana, Post-Gazette)

It's so simple that John Stallworth did it 63 times in his career, Louis Lipps did it 12 times in one season, Roy Jefferson accomplished it four times in one game and even linebacker Joey Porter has done it twice.

It's also something that Burress has never done in the National Football League.

"I just need to get into the end zone one time," said Burress, entering the second game of his second pro season Sunday in Buffalo. "That's all it's going to take for me to get that feeling back. I'm not going to throw the ball in the stands or act the fool or anything.

"I just want to go out and catch the ball and make plays and get into the end zone one time, get my feet wet. That's when I'll get into my zone, and it will just be me."

The uncharted territory of the end zone in his pro career is unlike his days at Michigan State. There, he set the school record of 12 touchdown receptions in 1999, one year after he tied the school record with eight.

He was a touchdown-maker as a Spartan, now he can't get near the place, except for a couple times in the preseason. He wanted to get off to such a fast start this season after catching just 22 passes as a rookie, all the time with his right wrist injured.

So, 2 1/2 weeks ago in Jacksonville, he went out and dropped a deep pass, caught two others for 24 yards and then left the game in the first half with a sprained shoulder, which has since healed.

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The Steelers made him the eighth pick in the 2000 draft with the idea he would make some big plays, and they are still waiting.

"He just needs to make some plays," said Mike Mularkey, their offensive coordinator. "We threw a deep ball early to him [in Jacksonville]. Those are plays I've seen him make, he knows he can make -- just be more consistent in that area."

Mularkey then went on to praise the work habits of Burress, who joined quarterback Kordell Stewart as the last players off the practice field yesterday after putting in extra work.

"He's got the potential, definitely," Mularkey said. "We just have to give him chances and, when those chances are there, we have to take advantage of them."

Burress said he is ready like never before to break out, starting against the Bills in Buffalo Sunday.

"I've just worked too hard to go out and not play well, and that really bothers me. I've never worked this hard in my life. Too many people have made too many sacrifices for me not to succeed. I want to work so hard that I get to the point where I don't give them a reason to not give me the football."

He has had his chances, as Mularkey noted. He had several opportunities to make big plays in the preseason and in Jacksonville, but either had the ball tipped away by a smaller defensive back or had it slip away from him. Against Buffalo in the final preseason game, 5-11 cornerback Ken Irvin tipped a deep pass away from Burress in the end zone.

It would have been a nice catch if Burress had made it, the kind the Steelers thought he'd make when they drafted him. Buffalo Coach Gregg Williams yesterday said Irvin will probably cover Burress again on Sunday.

"He does play bigger than his stature," Williams said of Irvin.

Burress sniffed at the suggestion that Irvin played well against him at Heinz Field.

"He knocked the one out of my hand going deep," Burress said. "But I don't think he really did a good job covering me. I'm not going to say he covered me because that didn't happen. I think I had the ball thrown to me like nine times in that first half and I thought he overthrew like six of them, so I don't really think he covered me."

Burress is only as good as those who call the plays and throw the ball, he noted.

"I thought my time was due a long time ago. All I can do is sit back and wait and, when the coaches put the trust and confidence in me, and me and Kordell get on a page to where we can be the tandem everyone is looking for, then that time will come. I can do nothing without the opportunity."

Burress always runs routes against men much smaller, cornerbacks almost always under 6 feet. Buffalo's other starting cornerback, is 5-9 Antoine Winfield, who stands nearly nine inches shorter than Burress.

"Every game I go out, see what their defense is doing and their corners are little guys and I get excited to play," Burress said. "And then it gets to the point I don't get the [passes] I thought I would get, that I was getting in practice."

His longest reception of 39 yards came in his first game as a rookie, against Baltimore. It was also his most productive, with 77 yards on four receptions.

"That's another thing," Burress said. "If you look around the league, a lot of big guys kind of go down the field [deep] a lot more. But we're really not that kind of offense that's just going to drop back and launch the football."

Burress and his coaches said he has worked hard, has a better attitude about football this year and should be ready to take off.

"There are a lot of things I do behind the scenes a lot of people don't know," Burress said. "I go home and watch film all night and know what's going on.

"I sit back and say, is it me? Or am I being too impatient? Or will people see it as me being selfish?"

What then, would be a good game for Burress? A touchdown or two to go with 150 yards on five receptions in a victory?

"Just catching the football," he said. "Going out and having fun; laughing, smiling, catching footballs. Just get back to how I'm used to playing football all over again.

"That was how I got here, going out and playing."

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