Snapshot: Fred Gibson

One thing that was always bubbling just under the surface for the Steelers over the past few years was the competition between Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward.

Burress always wanted to be the Steelers' No. 1 option, while Ward, in fact, was.

But Burress is now a member of the New York Giants, where he'll get an opportunity to be what he thought he should have been in Pittsburgh.

And the Steelers feel like they have an eventual replacement in former Georgia star Fred Gibson, whom they selected in the fourth round of this year's draft.

"He has to give us the height that we lost, hopefully and make plays in the red zone with his height and jumping ability," said Steelers wide receiver coach Bruce Arians. "Other than that you have to see the production because Plaxico was a productive player."

For all of his potential, Burress was a disappointment overall in his five seasons in Pittsburgh. Sure, he had two 1,000-yard seasons, but for a player selected eighth-overall in the 2000 draft, the Steelers needed more production.

That may eventually be what they get from Gibson, who like Burress, towers over most cornerbacks. Though he's 20 pounds lighter than the 229-pound Burress, the 6-4 Gibson is just one inch shorter. But while he lacks Burress' bulk, Gibson is a half-step faster. The Steelers timed Gibson at 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his personal workout, while Burress ran a 4.55 to 4.6-second 40 when he was coming out of college.

"Getting a kid like Fred Gibson, we like Fred," said Steelers head coach Bill Cowher. "He is a guy that has played at a high level with a lot of exposure in that conference. I think he went down to the Senior Bowl and had a really good week of work, he played very well in the game against all the top players. He is a tall guy that can run fast. He is a good route runner. I think he will fit in well here."

Fitting in is the key. And the Steelers know they will have no trouble with Gibson fitting in as a complementary receiver to Ward, the first player in team history to have four consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

Like Gibson, Ward is a product of Georgia and has served as something of a mentor to Gibson.

"I know I talked to Hines this whole entire (draft) process," said Gibson. "This whole draft, I asked him and he told me no matter where you get drafted, it's all about what you do when you get there. Hines is a great player. He's one of the best receivers. He also played at Georgia. So I know he's going to look after me no matter what."

Many draft analysts had Gibson ranked as a late-first to second-round pick. Because of that, the Steelers felt good about acquiring him at the end of the fourth round.

A four-year player at Georgia, Gibson burst onto the scene as a freshman, becoming the first Bulldogs' receiver to have five 100-yard games in a season despite making just three starts. He followed that up with two somewhat disappointing seasons before catching 49 passes for 801 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior, which wasn't bad considering he had to share the ball with Reggie Brown, a second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Because of that, Gibson has no doubts about his talent.

"Playing in the SEC, I played against a whole lot of good corners," Gibson said. "Corey Webster, Carlos Rogers, Justin Miller, Lito Sheppard, [who] plays for the Eagles, my freshman year. Dunta Robinson, who plays for Houston right now. I've played against a whole lot of quality guys that went in the first round. And I think I held up well against them."

He also played against some of the SEC's top basketball players. Gibson averaged nearly five points per game as a freshman on the Georgia basketball team, including a 13-point effort against the University of Florida.

"What people don't understand is how basketball helps you with your hand-eye coordination," Gibson said. "Playing receiver is also about being able to move in different directions on a dime. In basketball, you're always moving on the court, so if definitely helps your mobility and agility."

The Steelers feel that will help Gibson as well.

I think those athletes, the way college football is being played, spread all over the field, it is kind of like basketball," said Arians.

"You see better match ups with these guys because of their jumping ability and their speed. It is changing the game a little bit. When they come to our level and the defensive backs with the change of rules and can not jam them all the way down the field then you can create some match-up problems."

Antwaan Randle El will get the first opportunity to replace Burress in the starting lineup, while Cedrick Wilson, the team's lone big free agent signing, will also get a look. But the No. 4 receiver position for the Steelers is wide open, with Lee Mays currently holding the spot. Gibson and Zamir Cobb, a second-year player who showed promise last season at training camp before suffering a broken leg in the team's second preseason game, will have an opportunity to unseat Mays.

"It is very competitive. That usually breeds success," said Arians. "I like our group of guys. There is a lot of quickness and speed and different style players there, which makes up a real solid group."


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