Big Blue needs a punctual Plaxico

Plaxico Burress missed his first free-agency meeting with the Giants because he was supposedly suffering from flu-like symptoms.

Burress then was excused from the first week of the team's "voluntary" offseason conditioning program while he tended to personal matters in the wake of his surprising signing on March 17. Jerome Bettis, Burress' former teammate, has since said that punctuality was never Burress' best quality while with Pittsburgh. Bettis also acknowledged that Bill Cowher isn't one to fine people for tardiness, which leads "The Bus" to think the Tom Coughlin-Burress relationship could become troublesome.

Coughlin and Burress both believe that they've come to an understanding regarding what will be expected of him here, however. He'll be five minutes early to meetings, certainly not late, or he'll be fined. And if he thinks there will be exceptions made for him, the former Michigan State star should ask perennial Pro Bowler Michael Strahan, the face of the organization for the better part of the last 10 years.

Assuming Burress has accepted that he'll have to become better at time management, he should know this, too. The Giants cannot afford a late arrival by Burress on the field, either.

The Steelers selected Burress eighth overall in the 2000 NFL Draft, expecting that he would make more of an immediate impact than Troy Edwards, the eventual bust Pittsburgh picked 13th overall the previous year.

But Burress caught only 22 passes for 273 yards and no touchdowns in his rookie season, during which Burress and many of his teammates on offense thought their system was a tad too complex. Buffalo head coach Mike Mularkey, who was hired as Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator prior to the 2001 season, went away from the more complicated playbook preferred by deposed Kevin Gilbride and Burress appreciated the simplified scheme.

"Coach Mularkey kind of modified the offenese and made it simpler for us," Burress told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at the time. "Now we're at a point, we just have to catch the ball. There's not going to be a whole bunch of, you know, we thought the quarterback was doing this and the quarterback thought we were doing that. It's etched in stone. What you get is what you get. There won't be a lot of miscommunication. I think that will make us a lot better."

Pittsburgh sources confirmed that Burress' inability to grasp the entire original offensive playbook was the driving force behind Mularkey's decision to scale back.

The 6-5, 226-pound playmaker promptly responded by catching 66 passes for 1008 yards and six scores in 2001. He enjoyed his most productive professional season in 2002, when he hauled in 78 balls for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns.

The 27-year-old Burress regressed thereafter, though, and Hines Ward went on to become the Steelers' star receiver. He managed merely 60 catches and four touchdowns in 16 games during the 2003 season. Last year, Burress recorded just 35 catches, five for touchdowns, although he did miss five games due to injuries and averaged an eye-popping 19.9 yards per catch.

That ability to stretch the field is what convinced the Giants to spend much more money on Burress than any other team, especially Pittsburgh, was willing to pay him. They signed him to a six-year, $25 million contract, a deal that includes a two-tiered guaranteed signing bonus of $8.25 million and $11.38 million in guaranteed salaries for the 2005 and 2006 seasons, because they anticipate instantaneous improvement on offense for paying him handsomely. They're 10-22 since qualifying for the NFC Playoffs two years ago, so they need Burress to follow the lead of his newly hired agent, Drew Rosenhaus, by producing pronto.

There's no time for a development process here, certainly no time for the type of pedestrian production he posted during his first season in Pittsburgh. Burress seemingly understands the urgency.

"I guess that's how life is," Burress said. "We're all put in positions where we have to go out and prove ourselves on a daily basis. I plan on doing that and coming in here, having an impact and making the guys around me better. Hopefully we can come together and accomplish our goal, which is to win a world championship."

Until recently, Burress thought he would win a Super Bowl while wearing black and gold, but he and Cowher didn't share a similar vision of his place in the Steelers' offense.

"He's going to have a chance to be the guy with the New York Giants," Cowher told the Post-Gazette. "I think that's what he wants to be. We thought we had a great tandem in Plax and Hines."

Still, Burress seemingly wore out his welcome in Pittsburgh.

His drop of a pass in the end zone during an AFC Championship Game defeat to New England drew strong criticism two months ago. And Burress' doubters denounce his hands, his ability to run after the catch, his red-zone effectiveness and his all-around football concentration and smarts. They claim that it is Burress' talent level that prevented him from becoming the AFC's answer to Randy Moss, not a perceived attitude problem that both Burress and Coughlin contend is non-existent, nor a lack of opportunities.

If nothing else, his touchdown count (22 in five seasons) certainly doesn't indicate that Burress is the "green zone" solution Coughlin thinks he has found. Comparatively, Amani Toomer, before failing to catch a pass for a score last season, caught 31 touchdowns in his previous five seasons combined.

"The thing I think is most impressive about him is that he knows full well he has a lot to improve on," Coughlin said, "and he's looking forward to the opportunity of doing that."

Coughlin, of course, has more than just a peripheral perspective on Burress. Coughlin coached against Burress' Steelers twice a year from 2000-2002 when he was with Jacksonville.

Coughlin couldn't watch him live last season because the Steelers' 33-30 victory over the Giants on Dec. 18 marked one of the five games Burress missed in 2004. But another new addition to the Giants' offense, right tackle Kareem McKenzie, developed an up-close and personal perspective on Burress when the receiver helped Pittsburgh overcome McKenzie's Jets in overtime in an AFC Divisional Playoff game on Jan. 15 at Heinz Field.

"He's a receiver that can go out there and get the ball," McKenzie said. "He can really make a difference."

The earlier the better. And we don't mean getting to meetings.

The Giants Beat Top Stories