From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
Ernie is the author of “Lombardi and Landry.” He’ll be covering football throughout the season.
This week on “As the Jets Turn,” a question.
Where in the world is Plaxico Burress?
There seems to be a lot of consternation these days about the on-field whereabouts of the 6-foot-5 Red Zone target, for good reason. Burress had just one catch for 16 yards Monday night in that feel-somewhat-good win over the Dolphins. For a guy who Mike Tannenbaum brought in to provide some juice to the wide receiver corps he dismantled, the 14 catches for 218 yards and two touchdowns Burress has accumulated over the first six games has to come as a disappointment.
It’s not that Mark Sanchez isn’t looking for him. He’s been targeted 37 times this year, an average of just over six times per game. Yet, his high game this year remains the four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown he had in the opener against Dallas.
So what’s the problem?
Bad signing, that’s the problem.
What, exactly, did Rex Ryan and Tannenbaum expect when they handed the newly-minted ex-con $3 million of guaranteed money July 31? A dynamo? A game-breaker?
Perhaps if this was 2008, they would have been right on. But two years in jail, far away from NFL trainers and coaches, takes a lot out of a player. The fact that he’s even deemed useful in an offense is a major win for Burress, for lifting weights in the prison yard and pumping out sit-ups in a cell is no equal for true football training.
Burress, now 34, the self-inflicted hole in his leg healed, looks slow, especially coming out of his break. He doesn’t get the separation he used to get from cornerbacks. And it doesn’t help that Sanchez, who looks to have taken a major step backward as Ryan and Brian Schottenheimer try to force-feed him a more advanced passing plan, hasn’t built a chemistry with the guy.
Though still a physical presence — his downfield block sprang Santonio Holmes on his 38-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown reception — unless those reception numbers come up, he could soon be regarded as a free agent bust.
At least he still has the support of the head coach, a guy who willingly agreed to dismantle a solid receiving corps that included Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards and replace them with an old Burress and a now-departed Derrick Mason.
“I’m not down on Plax whatsoever,” said Ryan, who could be headed for full-out face-saving mode once San Diego’s second-ranked pass defense gets done with his team Sunday. “I think there are going to be times when he’ll have 10 catches. I truly believe that is coming.
“I think the chemistry is there. It’s just a matter of fine-tuning just a little bit more. As the season goes on, you’re going to see better and better chemistry and having the ball thrown to Plax more.”
That could translate into more drops, which would not bode well for a guy who has three drops the last two games. Against Miami, he couldn’t get around cornerback Sean Smith on a long shot downfield, and Smith nearly intercepted the ball. He got caught up on the line, also, something that rarely happened in his big-play days with the Steelers and Giants.
Burress may be shot. Finished. If that’s the case, the Jets will be down to exactly two viable passing options in Holmes and tight end Dustin Keller. That’s no formula for long-term success.
Especially when the Jets went out of their way to break up last year’s set of perfectly good targets for Sanchez.
A breakout game against a good pass defense like the Chargers’ would put a lot of people’s minds at ease about Burress.
Don’t think that’s going to happen, though.
Do you think Plax is finished? Let Palladino know in the comments below…