The days continue to click down as we get closer and closer to the start of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 training camp. We move forward today with a look at the upcoming training camp battle for the fifth wide receiver spot on the 53 man roster. As usual, chime in with your comments below and make sure to vote in the attached poll.
Training Camp Battle Setup: The Steelers in all likelihood will only carry five wide receivers on their 53 man roster out of training camp, so that means there is only one spot up for grabs. The realistic combatants for that lone spot are Plaxico Burress, David Gilreath, Justin Brown and J.D. Woods as the other receivers are merely camp bodies.
Plaxico Burress – Burress was signed late last year after both Jerricho Cotchery and Antonio Brown went down injured, and he pretty much admitted that it took him a while to get into football shape and learn the playbook. He has had a full offseason now to accomplish both and being as he no longer plays special teams, he must really prove his worth during training camp and the preseason if he is to make the roster as a fifth wide receiver. The Steelers barely used any four wide receiver personnel groupings last season, so you can see that Burress is far from guaranteed a spot on the 53 man roster. He is no longer a vertical threat which pretty much leaves him as red zone threat at this point in his career. At almost 36 years of age, Burress could very well be entering the final few months of his football career.
David Gilreath – Gilreath is only second on this list because of seniority. He is an undersized receiver who is not the most polished of route runners. During his short stay on the 53 man roster last season, Gilreath mostly lined up outside and was pretty much a non factor. He must show during the preseason that he can use his speed to stretch the field, and he must catch every ball thrown his way. Even doing that might not be enough. Gilreath was an accomplished return man while at Wisconsin, and he will more than likely get a chance to compete for the return job during camp in addition to auditioning for the fifth wide receiver spot. He must make an impact on special teams, or he will be battling the other young receivers on the roster for a spot on the practice squad.
Justin Brown – The Steelers sixth-round draft pick is tall, but not terribly fast, and he certainly isn\’t a threat to stretch the field. Brown will, however, go across the middle, and he uses his body to make tough catches in traffic. Like the other young receivers vying for a spot on the roster, Brown needs to distinguish himself on special teams. He did return punts during his college career, but is not considered accomplished in that area. Reps for Brown during the preseason will likely be few and far between, so he must make the most of what little playing time that he will receive.
J.D. Woods – Woods is basically a one-year college production guy who benefited mostly from the offense that he played in and the attention that the other two starting receivers received when he was on the field. He has adequate size and decent speed, but lacks burst off of the line and the ability to separate consistently. Can he be a coverage man on special teams? If not, his chances of making the roster diminish greatly, and he will then be fighting for a spot on the practice squad.
Prediction: Yes, I realize that Reggie Dunn is not on this list, and I will have a post dedicated to him later in this series. In no way is he a serious contender for a fifth wide receiver spot on the 53 man roster as he must make the team as a sixth by being a return specialist. You have to think that this is Burress\’ job to lose heading into training camp, and one of the other three receivers listed here must take that spot away from him. If Burress has any injury problems during training camp or the preseason that forces him to miss time, this becomes a wide-open battle that should be fun to watch. Pay very close attention to which of these receivers gets playing time before the other as it will be a true sign of where each of them is in the eyes of the coaching staff. Furthermore, pay close attention to the special team contributions of each.