When Plaxico Burress signed with the Steelers last November, one of his biggest adjustments was getting into "football shape." He hadn't been with a team all season, not even in training camp, so while he might have been in good physical shape from working out on his own, he definitely wasn't where he needed to be football-wise.
This year has been a lot different. Burress had the entire offseason to prepare, beginning when the Steelers' offseason program got underway and continuing until today with the start of the team's three-day minicamp.
Burress first joined teammates for voluntary workouts early on, hitting the weight room and taking part in on-field conditioning drills.
"For me to have been able to get here early with the rest of the guys, get my feet under me and get back into football shape was critical so I can go out and play at the highest level this season," said Burress. "I think you need 8-10 weeks to get into football shape. I came in so late last year, near the end of the season, and I was just getting into football shape when things ended. To have been here with the guys at the beginning and get into football shape was critical to me.
"Also, getting the football side of it early was a key. When you know what you are doing when you come out of the huddle it sends your success rate that much higher. When you know what you are doing when you come out of the huddle you can go to the line and play and react and let you abilities take over."
Burress, who is in his 12th NFL season, knew as a veteran his presence wasn't a must during the first few phases of the offseason program, but at the same time understood the importance of veterans being on hand.
"This was the biggest turnout I have ever seen for offseason workouts," said Burress. "We know we have talent and we are willing to put the work in. I think it showed from the first day of the workouts until today. It shows everyone is dedicated and wants to win a championship."
It still bothers Burress that their AFC North rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, won the Super Bowl last year while the Steelers missed the playoffs. He is already looking forward to getting the 2013 season started to erase that feeling, especially the first Steelers-Ravens matchup on Oct. 20 at Heinz Field.
"For us to not make the playoffs is not even a part of what we are all about," said Burress. "For so many to show up the first few days, when guys could be anywhere, you understand. You see guys are committed to winning our division first, getting in the playoffs and then winning a world championship. Nobody wants to go 8-8. For us it's not acceptable. But we own it. It's what we did to ourselves last year. But we are here now trying to fix it."
His plan is to do everything in his power to aid in that fix. Burress had only three receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown in his limited time with the team last year, but is looking to have more of an impact this season on the field.
"I want to go out and compete and catch a few touchdowns," said Burress. "Everybody looks forward to getting out there and doing great things. Going to training camp will be a great start. Walking out on to the field on opening day, there is no better feeling. Where else would you rather be? It's right around the corner and I get another opportunity to do it. I am going to work very hard for it. I am not going to take this opportunity for granted. I am going to enjoy it more than anything."
He also wants to use his experience to help the team's younger receivers. Burress is only one of three from the NFL Draft Class of 2000 to still be playing in the league, the others being New England quarterback Tom Brady and Jacksonville center Brad Meester, and he knows his experience and knowledge can be an asset.
"I know what it takes," said Burress. "That is one of the reasons I have the opportunity to still come out and play. If you don't know what it takes to compete, you won't be around for long. You have to manage your career and at some point in time you have to do certain things. You have to get to know yourself physically if you want to be around this league.
"I know what it takes. It's a blessing to still be around in this league."