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Steelers Cardinals' Boldin big catch in draft

Saturday, November 08, 2003

By Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

In his first game in the NFL, Arizona rookie receiver Anquan Boldin had 10 catches for 217 yards against the Detroit Lions, the most receiving yards by a player in his first NFL game.

After four games, Boldin was off to the fastest start by a rookie in league history, catching 30 passes for 464 yards and looking like a steal as a No. 2 draft pick.

Now, eight games into a season in which he leads all NFL rookies in receptions, Boldin is being compared with a player who will also be at Heinz Field tomorrow -- Pro Bowl receiver Hines Ward.

"When we saw him, we saw him in a mold of what Hines Ward has been able to do," said Cardinals Coach Dave McGinnis. "He isn't at that level that Hines Ward is, but we saw some striking similarities to the way they both played in college. That is something that drew us to him."

Like Ward, Boldin played a little quarterback in college, filling in for Florida State in the Sugar Bowl against Georgia -- Ward's former team -- when injuries and suspensions depleted the Seminoles' quarterback corps.

Like Ward, Boldin has a relentless work ethic that has already produced a polished receiver with sure hands and a tenacious attitude.

And, like Ward, a third-round selection in 1998, he was bypassed in the draft in favor of receivers who were taller and faster. That included the player the Cardinals selected on the first round with the 17th overall pick in the draft -- Penn State's Bryant Johnson.

"The way he has exploded onto the NFL scene, we have been very pleased with it," McGinnis said. "We wish we had more wins with it, but he is a very mature player."

The Cardinals (3-5) aren't the only team wishing it had more wins. The Steelers (2-6) have lost five in a row and are perilously close to running out of time if they want to stage one of the more improbable comebacks in NFL history and make the playoffs.

But, to do so, they have to start with a victory against Arizona, which has won two in a row and, all of sudden, boasts offensive playmakers at wide receiver and running back -- Boldin and Marcel Shipp.

Boldin has been so productive -- he is fourth in the NFC with 48 catches and 672 receiving yards -- he has more than replaced David Boston, who signed a seven-year, $47.4 million contract with the San Diego Chargers in free agency.

"Boldin has excellent hands and he's excellent at running after the catch," coach Bill Cowher said. "He looks like a veteran player."

Boldin (6-1, 218) was the sixth receiver selected in the April draft, No. 54 overall. Nonetheless, he leads all rookies in receptions, including the three wide receivers taken in the first round -- Detroit's Charles Rogers (22 catches, 243 yards), who was selected No. 2 overall; No. 3 Andre Davis of Houston (39, 559) and No. 17 Johnson, who has just 20 catches for 225 yards and no touchdowns.

What's more, he leads all NFL receivers with 23 catches on third down, an indication how highly Cardinals quarterback Jeff Blake regards his prized rookie.

"He's in the slot, he's outside, he goes in motion, he does a lot of things for them," said cornerback Deshea Townsend, who will start at left cornerback for demoted Dewayne Washington. "He's one of the focus guys they use in the offense. They run every route. Anytime he's on the field, they're trying to get him the ball."

Why did Boldin last so long in the draft?

Apparently, scouts at the combine were turned off by his time in the 40-yard dash (4.6), a result of torn knee ligaments that caused him to miss his junior season.

The Cardinals, desperate for receiving help after losing Boston, used their first-round pick on Johnson, a bigger and faster receiver. But, when Boldin was still there on the second round, the Cardinals took him.

Once McGinnis got him to camp, Boldin became the focus of the Cardinals' offense. They were so impressed with his desire and willingness to win, they began designing plays to feature him.

"We really felt if we could get him in and design some things specifically for him, he could be a playmaker," McGinnis said.

The result: Boldin opened the season with his record-setting performance against the Lions, which included two touchdowns. After four games, he broke the previous marks for catches (28, set by New England's Deion Branch in 2002) and reception yards (417 by Buffalo's Jerry Butler in 1979).

"He could care less how many catches he has or how many yards he has, as long as the team is winning," McGinnis said. "I have only been around one rookie in my career who has had that type of maturity coming out of college his first year, and that is Mark Carrier. Anquan Boldin is going to be a beautiful player in this league. Right now, he is a huge part of what we're doing."

NOTES -- WR Plaxico Burress (shoulder contusion) practiced for the first time this week and said he expects to play against the Cardinals. He is listed as probable on the injury report. "It's a little stiff, still a little sore, but I made it through practice and that was my whole goal," Burress said. ... LB Clint Kriewaldt (hamstring), who did not play in Seattle, has been upgraded from questionable to probable on the injury report. Kriewaldt has practiced all week, as has TE Jay Riemersma (knee/questionable), who has missed the past two games. ... Cardinals rookie LB Gerald Hayes, who played at Pitt, will miss his second game in a row with a shoulder injury. ... A collection for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank will conducted at all gates from 10 a.m. until kickoff tomorrow.

Gerry Dulac can be reached at or 412-263-1466.

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