New acquisition pays off already

PITTSBURGH – The most successful plays for the Steelers last Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens were drawn up in the personnel offices way back in March.<br><br> You know how most stories about the best-laid plans turn out, but when Jay Riemersma caught a 20-yard touchdown pass over Ravens safety Edward Reed, the first part of the plan was set in motion.

The next part, the opening of the field, came on the next series. Cornerback Gary Baxter let Steelers receiver Hines Ward go past him to Reed, Baxter's cover-two partner. But Reed saw Riemersma flash open up the field. Once burned, Reed jumped in to cover the Steelers' tight end, leaving Ward wide open for a 28-yard touchdown pass that put the game away for good at 27-0. The best-laid plan had been realized on opening day.

"The team is starting to realize what the guy's capable of doing and how fast he's getting into those seams," wide receiver Plaxico Burress said of Riemersma. "The coverages are going to have to start rolling out, particularly to us. And when teams overload me and Hines when we're in the slot, he's on the backside and teams are going to have to make a decision on what they want to do. It's one of those things that if you make the wrong move, you can get hurt."

Burress caught six passes for 116 yards against the Ravens. His partner, Ward, caught nine passes for 91 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Both feel the addition of Riemersma helped achieve those numbers.

"Plax and I both knew, after watching him in training camp, that was possible," said Ward. "We were hoping he'd get off to a great start. He gets off to the great start and it presents a lot of match-up problems there."

Steelers Coach Bill Cowher had his eye on Riemersma for years. On the spring day he signed with the Steelers, Cowher recalled the problems he had matching up dime back Chris Oldham with Riemersma, who could run past linebackers and at 6-feet-5 was much taller than the 5-9 Oldham.

"He was in good position, but what? Was I going to tell Chris to grow?" Cowher recalled.

But Cowher did the next best thing and signed Riemersma after he'd been cut loose by the Buffalo Bills.

In Buffalo, Riemersma's production had fallen from 53 catches in 2001 to 32 in 2002, but wide receivers Eric Moulds and Peerless Price each caught over 1,200 yards worth of passes in 2002. Was Riemersma responsible for opening up the field?

"No," he said. "That system was not just necessarily running plays and taking advantage of what the defense gave you, it was to get the ball to those two guys, so I was pretty much a non-factor."

"That's not the case here though. In this offense, we run plays and we put people in position to make plays, but I think there's more of an emphasis on spreading it around and just kind of taking what the defense gives you, and really I think that's the better way to do it. I think that gets everybody involved and instead of a defense worrying about those two guys you've got to worry about everybody."

Riemersma was on the other sideline as Ravens tight end Todd Heap led his team in receptions and yards receiving. This Sunday, Riemersma could see the same thing out of Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez. Does he hold any envy at all after making only two catches for 29 yards last Sunday?

"I'm fine with that, completely fine," he said. "More than catching touchdown passes and making plays here and there in the passing game, my focus is more on being the best overall guy I can be. Those flashy things that you see every once in awhile aren't really why I play this game. I play it for the competitive aspect of it."

And Riemersma believes this is the place for a true competitor. Big games, playoff games, are what Riemersma had in mind when he chose the Steelers last spring.

"I don't know if some of the guys even know what they have here," he said. "I think some of them do because they've been determined to stay, but there's something special here. You can just feel it and sense it."

Jim Wexell

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