Steelers 2013 Training Camp Battles: Plaxico Burress Versus David Gilreath Versus Justin Brown Versus J.D. Woods


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.


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About Dave Bryan

I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.
  • Christopher Wilkes

    I have to agree. It’s Buress’ job, but I have a feeling we might carry 6 receivers and Brown or Woods have a serious shot at making the team too. I can’t stand Gilreath. No way he makes the team unless we lose at least 2 guys for an extended period with an injury.

  • steeltown

    This is tough.. I mentioned the other day this is a very interesting battle or dogfight if you will.. I agree Burress is probably the favorite entering camp, but something tells me Gilreath has something to say about that. He had a very impressive game in last yrs preseason against Indy. I also like the potential and skill set of JBrown and JD Woods

    That said, if they intend to only carry 8OL, 4RB and 4Safeties… then I could certainly see them keeping a 6th WR, especially if were talking about a guy like Gilreath or JBrown who can contribute on ST

  • Randy Neff

    If Burress doesn’t make the team I wonder if the Steelers would consider only four wide receivers. If we assume Howling is the kick returner, and none of the wideouts help on special teams, they could easily stash the fifth receiver on the PS. All of the RB’s outside of Bell, cover kicks. An extra DB could cover that as well. Just a thought, not a prediction.

    What about Derek Moye ? No shot ? I voted for Brown making the roster and Burress sent packing.

  • cencalsteeler

    I hate to say this, but Plax’s time is up. The Steelers would be investing in borrowed time. Use that on these young guys like Brown and Woods. I still have a sour taste in my mouth from Plax only catching two balls all of last year and admitting he wasn’t football ready. Huh? Seriously Plax? I’d rather take a young, motivated player any day.

  • steeltown

    If we’re keeping 6WRs then I’d like to have Burress on roster, but if we’re only keeping 5WRs on the 53man then I’d rather have one of the young guys who can contribute on special teams.. for me its as simple as that

  • Milliken Steeler

    I agree. Even with wallace gone, its time to see what we have behind Brown, Sanders Wheaton and Cotch.

    Plax’s time has came and went along with his choices and work ethic. He disappeared in big games when in his prime for us and the knock on him out of college was work ethic and continues to be so it seems.

    Being out of shape last year and not ready when you arent a lock to even be on the team shows me that. Im just not a fan of this man on our team at all.

  • westcoasteeler

    I’m hoping JBrown can remove some of the clunk out of his route running while adding some horsepower. He catches TD’s in the redzone, good at run blocking and will go across the middle. He’s tall, will play on special teams and should be able to adjust to the new situation quickly.
    Byebye Plax.

  • westcoasteeler

    Totally agree. I believe he said the opposite to Steeler FO just to get signed thinking he’d be able to get back in football shape by osmosis.
    I know we had a major need at the time, but you said it best. I’d rather take a young motivated, player any day that hasn’t seen his best days behind him.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    I think the best thing Plax has going for him is Heath’s injury. Without real speed left to offer, Plax essentially becomes a receiving TE, and has a chance to make up for (what would normally be) Heath’s touchdowns in the red zone. If he can be that specialist that either grabs those passes for six or draws double coverage in the end zone, great. Otherwise, he’s not worth the roster spot.

  • dennisdoubleday

    I disagree. Burress will score at least 6 TDs, if he makes the squad. He is a matchup nightmare in the red zone and Ben loves to find him there (see the TD in double coverage in the last game of last year.)

    No way are you getting that production out of any of those other guys in 2013. Put em on the practice squad if they show promise. Give me Plax this year.

  • dgh57

    If we intend to use our RBs more in the passing game then that may mean we only keep 5 WRs on the roster. All the WRs outside the top 4 all have potential so Dave like you said, whoever gets the most opportunities, preforms the best and plays STs will be on the 53 man roster come game 1. I like the potential of both JD Woods and Gilreath whose best days are ahead of them unlike Plax whose best days are behind him and may be the victim of a numbers game. As for J. Brown, to me he’s a wait and see type of player.

  • steeltown

    You make a very valid point

  • steeltown

    You could be right, but I keep going back to the numbers game. If they intend to keep only 4RBs and 4Safeties and quite possibly only 8OL.. then they’ll have extra roster spots that they didn’t have last season. I think an extra TE might be kept (till Heath returns) and possibly an extra CB, but they could also keep 6WRs as well..

  • Steves

    Burris had his chance and so did Cotch and neither did anything. Let both go and bring on the young blood. Buriss will score 6 TD!! In his dream, no way Dennis. Heath will be back when the season starts. He is running sprints at the OTA!

  • Randy Neff

    At this point I don’t see how they can keep 6 wide receivers unless there is a chance one of the top three can’t play in the opener. Even the fifth WR may be inactive, unless it’s Reggie Dunn handling kickoff returns.

  • CW

    It seems to me that all this boils down to…

    Burress might be a decent Red Zone threat this year but is fast running out of steam and will contribute nothing to special teams which is usually expected out of a fifth or sixth receiver.

    Gilreath is a small poor route runner who could be decent on special teams, but will likely not contribute much beyond that.

    Brown is tall, somewhat slow, willing to take hard routes, blocks effectively, but might be able to develop decent route running, but can potentially be a Special Teams player to start out.

    Woods is a late college bloomer who is shorter than Brown but somewhat faster, and has shown most of the other attributes Brown has in other aspects of the game.

    Personally I believe, if the Steelers keep six they should try to keep both Burress and Brown or Woods and stash the other one on the PS. Both Brown and Woods have shown a willingness to go over the middle and make tough catches as well as block down field to help fellow teammates score much the way Hines Ward once did. So if they can be developed they could be future solid contributors to the Steelers.

    Gilreath seems a little one dimensional to me and if the Steelers are keeping a Kick and Punt Return Specialist Reggie Dunn might actually be the better guy.

    The issue I have with keeping just Burress is that he might as well be marked as past due. The chances of a last great season are kind of low and once Miller comes back Miller is better in the Red Zone and in short yardage situations as well as being willing to both block and catch. Miller has been mostly been a team player for his entire career. Burress doesn’t seem like he was ever that kind of player so long term his utility is rather small and short. So if the Steelers keep him they almost have to keep someone else to develop anyway since Burress’ time is short as an effective player.

  • steeltown

    No the 5th WR is always active on game day considering they are usually special teamers, think Arnaz Battle or even Antonio Brown way back when he returned kicks. Last yr was sort of different because we had Rainey who was a RB/WR/KR, but it was not that long ago we had Ward, Wallace, Randle El, Sanders, Brown and Battle all active on game day because Sanders, Brown and Battle all played special teams (the following year you could subtract Randle El and add Cotchery to that list) so its not unheard of to have 6 WRs on roster and atleast 5 active

  • steeltown

    That last part is right on..and Ive been stewing on the fact that after this season Burress, Cotchery AND Sanders might ALL be gone, so we need to start developing atleast one if not two of these young guys, whether we keep one of them on the 53man and another on the PS or whatever..

    Just another reason I see us keeping 6WRs this year

  • dennisdoubleday

    Yeah, it might even make sense for once to throw a corner fade from the 3 if you have Plax there instead of Wallace.

  • TuffTruth

    I think you underestimate Dunn. Speed has acertain wow factor that gives you a shot at any position in which you’re interested. At 5’8″ he’s small, but he’s also potentially a huge return threat. Ask Colorado… you don’t turn a kid like this away especially if he is discovered as being able to catch the ball on any set of plays. Way, he can make this team.

  • westcoasteeler

    6 TD’s is not enough for someone that’s not gonna play special teams, only see real action in the red zone and is just too old. I’d rather see (during last years 8-8 season) the young bloods get some game experience which would give us a better idea for this year. Can Burress even run a 4.6 40? He’s barely taking the tops off a package of his new socks.

  • dgh57

    Using the RBs in the passing game at least gives them the option to get by with only 5 WRs.

    I remember Haley saying that Wheaton had a RB build and a thicker base who has experience at the RB position. I wonder if their thinking is the reverse and maybe a WR can help out in the running game in a pinch. We could get by with the bare minimum at RB & WR that way and free up 2 roster spots! We all know how notorious the o-line is with injuries!

    It depends on how these young WRs we have perform this preseason as to whether they go that way. If they blow us away we go with 6 WRs.

  • steeltown

    Very true.. but also remember next season Cotchery, Sanders and Burress might all be gone. If they see anything in any of these young guys we currently have they better strongly consider holding onto atleast one of them, if not two

  • Randy Neff

    You made my point for me. This wr group this year may not have anyone 4-6 on the depth chart who can contribute on ST’s. With Haley using 3 WR sets most of the time having more than 4 on gameday doesn’t seem necessary.

  • joed32

    Give the guy the credit he is due. He caught 3 balls last year.
    I do think Cotchery can still contribute so he will be in the top 4, the 5th WR will have to be someone who can play ST.

  • dgh57

    I got that covered with either one of J. Brown , Gilreath, or Woods making the roster this year the other two to the PS. I hate to leave off Reggie Dunn for the PS because of his return capability. I don’t see any of this happening because someone is going to shine this preseason and they won’t be able to resist signing him on as the 6th WR.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    6 TDs is not enough? C’mon! Say that to yourself in front of a mirror, so you realize how bad of a statement that is. lol, 6 TDs is not enough for a back up receiver??? SMH!

  • Shannon Stephenson

    How do you underestimate a guy who couldn’t even get on the field at a sub par college.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    If Plax makes the roster I will be very upset. We are on a youth trend and should have a young guy in this spot. Gilreath has shown promise and can play ST to me he is ahead of Plax. Plax can only play on very selected plays and to me would be a waste of a roster spot. Get a guy for the future not the grave,

  • steeltown

    How so? Wheaton, Gilreath, JBrown, JD Woods, Dunn can all contribute on special Teams, its Burress that lacks that aspect which will hurt him come cut day

  • TuffTruth

    Fast Willie Parker couldn’t get on the field at N. Carolina, he fared pretty well and we cheered him as he did.
    You can depend on the assessment of college coaches for your pro team, but I’ll trust Tomlin & Co, first, despite some of my disagreements as to how he does things.
    Also how arrogant is calling Utah Sub par? I understand the point you’re trying to make, but I hardly think its necessary to insult the school and all who went there to do so
    Anyway, speed is the reason and if a return man such as Dunn can change the game on the college level, he has potential to do as on this level as well.

  • Paul Cupido

    I am pulling hard for Burress to be a beast this year, nothing will make me happier…

  • Jonathon Bert Schade

    I continue to be of the opinion that neither Burress nor Cotchery will be able to remain on the field for long. Both of them are older and prone to injury; I don’t know how many games Cotchery has missed, but it seems like quite a few. I would rather give “the kids” a shot and try to include Reggie Dunn in the slot as his speed could drive opponents crazy!

  • westcoasteeler

    Whoa, your right chris. Don’t need a mirror, just have to do my research. 3 receptions In 4 games w 1 td. 6 td’s for Burress would mean he’s reached REM. Now, I’m SMH.

  • Stealer

    Correct me if I’m wrong. But wasn’t Gilreath incredible during last year’s preseason?
    I remember him catching stuff over the middle and a couple of sideline passes that were headed for the stands. I don’t usually get hung up on players during the preseason but this guy was killing it. I was really surprised when he didn’t make the roster.
    In any case, Plax can’t run with these kids anymore. Besides, if and when he gets hurt this year, who will you turn to? Someone younger, hungrier, faster, harder, longer……..wait, you get it. Peace.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I was in no way trying to insult Utah or the people attending the university. I was speaking about the football program which in recent years has done better but do not confuse them with elite college programs. Year in and year out UNC will produce more pro athletes so there is a greater chance that a gem could be hiding. I do not think the depth at Utah can compare to UNC and thus a guy like Dunn should have been seen more often on the football field. I too hope he can make a huge splash on ST but Logan who gave us the best returns on KR in 20 years was let go because of his inability to do anything else. Being Dunn only KR HE MUST be very dynamic which is a long shot but like FWP it could happen just do not put money on it.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    He was hardly given a chance last year. If he makes the team Ben will find a way to get him involved. I’m calling 8 TDs this year from the towering Burress.

  • Ahmad

    Not only is it Plaxico’s job to lose, he also has Ben on his side to lobby for him, so that helps too.

  • Ahmad

    Burress is at best a 5th WR. If my 5th WR can score 6 TD’s, I’m taking that any day of the week.

  • Milliken Steeler

    I don’t think Plax makes the roster for these reasons.

    In college and when he came to us people questioned his work ethic. When he was in his prime and played for us, he disappeared in big games and thus we didn’t give him the money he wanted.

    Except for that catch in the Superbowl again…where was he? He is a big target however, even now when it counts most, he doesnt put in the work on conditioning IE part of his craft.

    He is tall yes however, to fill that spot with plax instead of someone young and who shows promise during camp? I wouldn’t. We have Matt Monster Spaeth again and while it looks like his blocking is his strong point, he is a redzone target at 6’7″. We threw to him there before and now he is more polished and in his prime. There is your tall redzone target with dual TE sets in the redzone.

    I think with two of his co receivers in the NFL and JD Woods still having that production actually speaks volumes about his route running, not luck. I believe we have another player by the name of Moye who is tall and will have a chance in camp to show himself also.

    I’m just not feeling Plax for our team. I honestly think its time for him to sell high end socks.

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