Steelers' receivers catch on

This is the fourth in a series on the position battles that will take place at the Steelers training camp. Today: wide receivers

Breakout seasons are perhaps the most fun thing to witness from a player.

All of a sudden the light just seems to go on and that player can suddenly do no wrong. It's a special thing to witness.

In 2001, the Steelers had two players have breakout seasons at the same position as wide receivers Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress both enjoyed 1,000-yard seasons, the first time in team history a pair of wide receivers have accomplished that feat.

In 2002, they'll be asked to not only match those seasons, but perhaps take them one step more.

Ward, arguably the best blocking wide receiver in the NFL, served as quarterback Kordell Stewart's security blanket throughout the season. He grabbed a team-record 94 passes for 1,003 yards and four touchdowns, serving as the team's possession receiver. For his efforts, Ward earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

Burress might join his teammate in that honor this season if he plays the entire season as he did the second half of last year.

After catching just 13 passes with no touchdowns in the team's first five games, Burress exploded for 53 receptions and six touchdowns in the final 11 games. His 66 catches for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns easily eclipsed his rookie season marks. With the starters set, the real battle will be fought for the backup positions.

Veteran Terance Mathis, Atlanta's all-time leading receiver, was signed to a one-year contract to be the team's slot receiver. At 35, Mathis has lost a step, but still managed 51 receptions last season.

The Steelers are hoping Mathis' experience will be a good teaching tool for second-round pick Antwaan Randle-El.

Randle-El will contribute immediately as a punt and kickoff return man, but the Steelers didn't feel entirely comfortable counting on the former standout college quarterback to be their slot man. He'll have a year to learn the position now and could still be used as a wild card ala. Stewart in his rookie season.

After the top four, the real battle will begin for what will likely be two positions.

Troy Edwards, the team's 1999 No. 1 draft choice, is head and shoulders above the rest of the contenders in experience. But that experience comes with a price, in Edwards case, a $525,000 base salary and a salary cap hit of just over $1.4 million.

Also contending for a spot will be promising rookie Lee Mays, a sixth-round pick who was impressive in the team's coaching sessions and mini-camp and roster veterans Lenzie Jackson and Demetrius Brown.

Look for Edwards and Mays to win out.

Undrafted rookies D.J. Flick and Dallas Davis will hope to open eyes and earn a spot on the team's practice squad this season.

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