Redskins

Burress ready to get back on field for Steelers

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Burress ready to get back on field for Steelers

PITTSBURGH (AP) The No. 80 jersey Plaxico Burress walked away from eight years ago still fits.

It's everything else that's changed for the former - and suddenly current - Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver.

The talented but immature kid who bolted as a free agent for the New York Giants in 2005 is 35 now, his resume complete with a Super Bowl ring and a 20-month jail stint stemming from a gun charge.

Burress returned to the team that drafted him a dozen years ago on Wednesday hungry, humble and eager to prove there's still some life left in a career that's never quite lived up to his own outsized expectations.

``I can't say I was ever going to come back to Pittsburgh ... but literally and physically the opportunity to finish what you started, how many guys get that?'' Burress said 24 hours after the Steelers signed him to bolster an injury depleted receiving corps.

Despite not taking a live snap in more than 10 months, Burress thinks he can play as early as Sunday when the Steelers (6-4) travel to Cleveland (2-8).

``I don't see why not.'' Burress said.

Neither does the guy who will throw him the ball.

``He's played, he's won in this league,'' said quarterback Charlie Batch, who will start in place of injured Ben Roethlisberger. ``The speed of the game is not going to be new to him. When you say the play, he can line up and go and make the play without thinking about it.''

Not thinking, however, is something that dogged Burress even before accidentally shooting himself in a New York club four years ago. During his five seasons in Pittsburgh there were times when the smallness of the city got to him and his mental lapses on the field annoyed the coaching staff.

Those days, he insists, are over.

``I'm an old man,'' Burress said. ``I have a wife, a family. I'm in just a total different direction. I'm happy to be out here playing football. My wife is excited. My son is excited.''

And Burress is excited to be back in a uniform, regardless of the color. He spent the past three months watching the NFL go on without him after the New York Jets declined to re-sign him following a productive - and quiet - return to the league last fall.

Burress isn't sure why the phone stopped ringing. His numbers in New York - 45 receptions for 612 yards and eight touchdowns - were solid. While he'll never be the downfield threat he was in his prime, he understands 6-foot-5 receivers are hard to come by.

So Burress kept working out in South Florida, believing there was enough left in his ridiculously long legs to fend off retirement. He was standing in the airport in Austin, Texas preparing to head home when the call from Pittsburgh came.

A day later he was working out for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. The one-year contract was signed within a couple hours and by Wednesday afternoon he was on the practice field playing catch with teammates Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders and trading jokes with nose tackle Casey Hampton.

``I think he's just been misunderstood,'' said Hampton, one of a handful of Steelers still around from Burress' first stint with the team. ``If you know him, he's always been a good guy and a good teammate.''

And hopefully an effective one, too. The passing game has flourished under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, though the one thing the Steelers have lacked is a receiver with Burress' size to create mismatches in the end zone. Jerricho Cotchery is the next tallest receiver on the roster at 6-1, and he's out indefinitely with fractured ribs.

Batch expects to spend a couple days experimenting with Burress to see where he fits in. Even if the Steelers can't quite figure it out in the span of a week, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

``We don't know how we're going to use him, so how can somebody else know how to go out and defend him?'' Batch said. ``He is such a threat. He has his height. He's capable of making big plays.''

Burress isn't quite ready to go that far. When asked if he can play on every down if necessary, he shrugged his shoulders and said simply, ``we'll have to see.''

Even if he's just a situational option, however, Burress thinks he can cause problems even if the ball doesn't come anywhere near him.

``I'm learning where I need to be and adding a different wrinkle to this offense,'' he said. ``Maybe I can draw some double coverage and open some guys up.''

Whether he's a long-term option or simply a short-term fix is still unknown. Wallace is in the final year of his contract but Sanders has developed into a reliable second option behind Antonio Brown when healthy.

There's too much going on for Burress to give much thought to the future. Or the past for that matter. He understands his highly publicized missteps will follow him until he retires. He can live with it so long as it means he gets to keep playing.

``If you're worried about what's going on behind you, you can't pay attention to what's going on in front of you,'' he said. ``I'm just going to keep moving forward. Obviously I've been through some things but at the same time I'm still here.''

NOTES: Steelers rookie right guard David DeCastro practiced for the first time on Wednesday since injuring his right knee in a preseason game against Buffalo on Aug. 25. The earliest DeCastro could return is against San Diego on Dec. 9 ... Roethlisberger did not practice on Wednesday, but he also walked through the locker room without a sling over his injured right arm ... Leftwich, Cotchery, safety Troy Polamalu (calf), tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and DE Ziggy Hood (back) also did not practice.

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, May 23, 65 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

What to look for at OTAs

Redskins OTAs started yesterday. The no-contact drills are the first time during the offseason program that the offense and defense are permitted to line up against each other. The-no pads aspect of it does take off a lot of the edge but the reality is that this will be the closest thing to football we will see until training camp starts in late July. 

Here are some things that I will be looking for during today’s practice.

Who’s in? Jay Gruden told us earlier that we should not expect to see some injured key players not participating as they continue to recover from 2017 injuries. Specifically, OT Trent Williams (knee), OT Morgan Moses (ankles), and TE Jordan Reed (hamstring/toe) will only be spectators if they are at Redskins Park at all. Other players who may sit out or participate only in light drills are RB Chris Thompson (leg), and ILB Mason Foster (shoulder). The Redskins have been relatively healthy the past few offseasons so we will see how they deal with the aftermath of the injury scourge that his the team last year. 

Seven-on-seven—Sure, it’s fun to watch the full team drills with 11 on each side. But since blocking and tackling is limited by the rules about contact there isn’t much to be gleaned from watching an off-tackle run. But when they eliminate the guards, tackles, and interior defensive linemen it’s all passing and then we can watch how well Alex Smith and his receivers are connecting. One thing I’ll keep in mind is that Smith decided not to get the receivers together for a “passing camp” before the offseason activities started. He said that he wanted to get to know the playbook first. Because of that they can be forgiven if they are not quite as sharp as they might be. Also, how natural does Derrius Guice look coming out of the backfield to catch passes? His primary job will be to carry the ball but if he is a legitimate pass-catching threat the whole offense will be harder to defend

Rookies vs. pros—In rookie camp two weeks ago we saw Trey Quinn putting defensive backs on the ground with some moves and Troy Apke showing great makeup speed on some long passes. But those tryout defensive backs and quarterbacks are no longer around. How will Quinn look against veteran Orlando Scandrick or second-year corner Josh Holsey? Will Smith’s ball placement negate Apke’s speed? In the one-on-one pass blocking drills, which emphasize technique over power, can Daron Payne get past Brandon Scherff?

The big guys—With Williams and Moses out, who will line up along the offensive line? Does Payne line up at nose tackle or is he used more as an end with Tim Settle in the middle? Is Ziggy Hood in the middle or will he work outside? How is Phil Taylor looking after a quad injury ended his season in training camp? As noted, the rules make it hard to tell much about linemen before Richmond but we try to glean what we can. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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My reaction to this tweet from the NFL illustrating the changes to the kickoff rules:

Timeline  

Today’s schedule:Redskins OTA practice 11:30; Jay Gruden and Alex Smith press conferences, players available coming off the field, after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 20
—Training camp starts (7/26) 65
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 79

The Redskins last played a game 143 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 109 days. 

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New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

Alex Smith in, Kirk Cousins out.

That's certainly the headline, but there are plenty of other questions for the Redskins, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

For the last two seasons, most of the questions going into OTAs for Washington came from the defensive side of the ball. After consecutive drafts with a first-round defensive lineman selection, the defense should be much improved. 

On offense, however, there are a lot of new parts. 

  1. The headliner - No position in sports is as important as NFL quarterback. This will be Alex Smith's first action in a Redskins uniform with media present. The 34-year-old veteran is coming off the best season of his career, and if he can continue that level of accuracy and play-making, the Redskins could be poised for an explosive year.
  2. The speedster - Washington's wideouts lacked separation in 2017. It was apparent through much of the year, and likely played a roll in some of Kirk Cousins' reluctance to make tough throws. Free agent addition Paul Richardson is supposed to help, immediately. He has elite deep speed and the 'Skins brass hopes he can bring a similar element to the offense that DeSean Jackson provided a few years back. Time to prove it Paul. 
  3. The injuries - There are big reasons for concern, namely two very large men in Jordan Reed and Trent Williams. Reed will not participate in OTAs, and has been dealing with a foot/toe injury for the better part of a year. Williams, who seems highly unlikely to attend OTAs, underwent knee surgery in January. Beyond Smith, Reed and Williams are probably the two most important offensive players on the Redskins. OTAs aren't important, Reed and Williams participating, or even attending, OTAs is not important. Both men being healthy and ready to go in September is quite important. 
  4. The Rookie - Has Derrius Guice become the most popular player on the Redskins? Maybe. The dynamic rookie running back, with an interesting draft weekend slide, has the charisma and ability to be a star. The "off-field concerns" that hurt his draft status seem like myths at this point, but there was some injury concern his junior season at LSU (see video above). Guice has an opportunity to be a huge part of the Redskins offense, and all eyes will be watching the rookie. 
  5. The leap? - In 2017, Josh Doctson showed flashes of the player that warranted a first-round pick in 2016. Will 2018 be the year he proves it, week after week, game after game? Getting off to a good start with Smith should help, and even more important would be an injury-free offseason. 

There are questions for the defense too, particularly at cornerback after Josh Norman, but this year, the offense has more new parts. 

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