x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

NFL: Burress the one with sage advice for young Steelers

'I just try to help these guys understand', says veteran realises he is closer to the end of his game than the beginning of it right now

Plaxico Burress, left, had his moments last season but they were too few and far between.
Plaxico Burress, left, had his moments last season but they were too few and far between.

Plaxico Burress turns 36 on Monday, an age the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver says makes him "grandpa" in a locker room filled with youngsters who would struggle to recall when Burress made his NFL debut nine months after the turn of the millennium.

Look closely enough at Burress's impossibly youthful face and a fleck or two of grey is evident in his chin stubble.

It is only when Burress talks that the years - and the perspective they provide - become evident.

In the twilight of a career that remains enigmatic at best and erratic at worst, this is Burress's last stand.

And he knows it.

Even more, he is OK with it.

"I tell some of the younger guys, these rookies coming in, I wouldn't want to be in those shoes for nothing in the world," Burress said.

"With what I've learnt in this business and going through it and knowing what it's about and having the dreams and aspirations we all come in with as young players, I've been fortunate enough to live them all out."

One very public nightmare too.

Burress lost two years of his prime while spending 20 months in prison on a gun charge from 2009/11, an incident in which he accidentally shot himself in the thigh, forever staining a resume that includes the game-winning touchdown for the New York Giants in the 2008 Super Bowl.

A different person emerged from prison than the one that went in.

Stripped of his freedom, Burress has spent two seasons embracing the role of elder statesman, first with the New York Jets and now with the team that chose him with the eighth overall selection in the 2000 NFL Draft.

His presence in the meeting room - where Jerricho Cotchery is the only other receiver born within a decade of Burress - is a calming presence for budding star Antonio Brown and a group of 20-somethings that include Emmanuel Sanders and third-round pick Markus Wheaton.

"I just try to help these guys understand," Burress said. "The game, everything, it just moves faster here."

Just not, Burress believes, too fast for him to be effective.

Signed to provide needed depth last November, Burress struggled to get onto the field.

He managed three receptions in three games, spending another three weeks on the inactive list.

Bumped to second string for the first time in his career, Burress understands the window to earn a roster spot is small.

Brown and Sanders are the entrenched starters. Wheaton is expected to provide some of the burst lost when Mike Wallace left for the Miami Dolphins in free agency.

Cotchery is the third-down guy.

That leaves little wiggle room for Burress, even though he insists he is not counting reps or trying to figure out if he is being targeted as much as everybody else.

Maybe he has lost a step.

Then again, Burress points out he is not sure having "a step" was ever part of his game.

"I've never ran a 4.3, a 4.4 [seconds over 40 yards] and I never will," he said.

"But I'm going to find a way to get open and catch the football."

Something Burress showed an ability to do in the briefest of flashes last fall.

His first reception with the Steelers since he left the team after the 2004 season came in Week 13 against the San Diego Chargers.

Faced with third and long in Pittsburgh territory, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fired an 18-yard strike to Burress, who stretched out to bring the ball back to earth.

He did it again in an otherwise meaningless finale against the Cleveland Browns, hauling in a 12-yard touchdown that provided the final score in an 8-8 year.

Having a full off-season to get acclimated to coordinator Todd Haley's offence brought Burress to training camp at Saint Vincent College energised.

Facing off regularly against the starting secondary, Burress makes up for in wiliness what he lacks in quickness.

Asked if Burress can still be effective as he inches into his late 30s, the usually motor-mouthed Taylor gets serious.

"Plax still got it," Taylor said. "Age, I think it pretty much comes down to, different people have different bodies. I tend to kind of throw age out the window for certain people."

Even if Burress knows that window is closing rapidly. He is trying to enjoy the ride and pass down a little wisdom, so the lessons he learnt can be carried forward whether he's on the sideline or not.

"Everything that I've seen in this business, on the field, off the field, my adversities and those things," Burress said "I'm trying to find a way to tie it all in with the younger guys and help 'em along the way."