FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Plaxico Burress predicted big things for his NFL return a few months ago, convinced he would show everyone he was still one of the game’s best wide receivers.
Well, the New York Jets are still waiting.
“Man, I’ve been in this league a long time,” Burress said Wednesday. “All it takes is a game or two.”
And, chemistry with your quarterback. That, however, is a work in progress.
“It’s just working and coming to work every day to get better,” Burress said. “One thing’s for sure: It can’t get any worse.”
Burress, signed as a free agent in late-July after spending 20 months in prison on a gun charge, has just 14 catches for 218 yards and two touchdowns in six games. Despite the long layoff from football, he was expected to be a dominant red-zone threat for quarterback Mark Sanchez.
“We are not on the right page right now,” Burress said. “But we’ve got to just work on getting on the right page, even if it calls for us to have some practices where we are hitting it, we’ve still got to keep working because that’s the only way you are going to get better at it.”
Burress feels good physically and knows the offense, and he’s confident he’ll click with Sanchez.
“The more and more we get comfortable, when we start playing pitch-and-catch and I’m doing my thing out there, this offense is just going to go through the roof,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time.”
On Tuesday, coach Rex Ryan said the two are “just a little off,” an assessment Sanchez agreed with.
“It’s one of those things where that kind of stuff doesn’t happen overnight,” Sanchez said. “You see quarterbacks and receivers that really click, they’ve been together for a while. They’ve missed a lot more throws than they’ve hit, and then they start to equal those numbers up. It’s a process.”
Burress knows that well. He has played with plenty of quarterbacks during his career, including Kordell Stewart, Kent Graham, Tommy Maddox and Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, and Eli Manning with the Giants.
“All the quarterbacks that I’ve played with over time, all that didn’t happen in the first six games — anywhere that I’ve been,” Burress said. “But when it comes, it’s going to be the right time. That’s just always how it’s been.”
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He said it’s clear when a quarterback and wide receiver have established a certain comfort level when they see the same defensive coverages, give the same hand signals and “are just going out there pitching and catching.” Burress, who missed some time in training camp with a sprained ankle, acknowledged it took him some time to get the offense down. He’d come out of the huddle during practices and games and head the wrong way.
“I’ve got those things settled,” he said. “Now it’s just a matter of us executing.”
Ryan said Burress has been getting double-teamed a lot, although Burress doesn’t necessarily think that’s the case. To Burress’ credit, Sanchez said, the wide receiver has not sulked because he hasn’t been getting the ball much in recent weeks. Burress had four catches and a touchdown in the opener, nothing in the next game and three catches in each of the next three games. He had just one catch for 16 yards in New York’s 24-6 win over Miami on Monday night, but was targeted four times and dropped a pass.
“Being a wide receiver, if you are competitive, like I am, you definitely want to go out there and compete and perform at a high level,” he said. “Playing this position, you have to understand you control the things that you can control. And for me, that’s catching the football. I’ve let a few passes get away from me the past few weeks and I’ve got to correct that first before I even start doing anything else because if I don’t have the ball, I can’t perform anyway.”
Burress thinks he has gotten lazy at times with technique, being so confident in his abilities that he’ll lose focus and not look the ball into his hands all the way. Seems simple enough, but Burress is still shaking off the rust — although he insists that’s not the case — from being away from football for so long.
“It’s just wanting to catch the ball and go and do something exciting and get back to that feel and having fun,” he said. “So you’ve just got to slow it down, catch the football and let it come to you, and then go back to having fun.”
Sanchez has had his share of struggles this season: His 56.1 completion percentage is near the bottom of the league rankings. Part of that is working with a new set of wide receivers — Santonio Holmes is the only starter from last season still with the Jets — and trying to get them all involved and learning their tendencies.
“We talk a lot about it,” Sanchez said of Burress. “He talks to me about, `OK, this is what I really like. If I had my way, I hope these calls are in. OK, good.’ When we get the right looks, the ball’s coming.”
And as far as those training camp declarations that he’ll be as dominant as he once was, Burress isn’t backing down.
“When I lose that mindset,” he said, “I’ll walk away from the game.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)