The “injury bug” bit the Steelers yesterday when Plaxico Burress reportedly tore his rotator cuff according to a source familiar with ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Although the Steelers have Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, and Markus Wheaton to hold down the fort at the wide receiver position this fall, Burress’ injury definitely opens door for a number of younger players to seize a roster spot or a practice squad berth or two.
Probably the biggest two benefactors from Plaxico’s torn rotator cuff and upcoming surgery are Justin Brown and Derek Moye. Like Burress, both pass-catchers possess tall frames, and if there is anything that Pittsburgh’s “Smurf-like” receiver corps needs it is at least one tall target for Ben Roethlisberger to utilize in the passing game.
Brown (6’3″ 209 lbs.) has enjoyed a solid training camp so far, and many like Bob Labriola commented on how soft his hands have been. Due to his size and ability to return punts and contribute on special teams, the 2013 sixth round pick should have the inside-track to win a roster spot as Pittsburgh’s number five wide receiver.
Moye (6’5″ 210 lbs.), who spent the final month of the 2012 campaign on Pittsburgh’s practice squad, is actually quite familiar with Brown as both were teammates together at Penn State during their college days. Moye was a three-year starter for the Nittany Lions, and was a very productive receiver during that time period. Overall, Moye recorded 141 catches for 2,324 yards and 17 touchdowns from 2009-2011, and he was more of a “go-to target” than Brown was at Penn State.
If the tall pass-catcher can show some promise that he can develop into a red zone threat, then he could very well earn a roster spot or another stint on the Steelers’ practice squad. Moye’s chances will only increase if he can show special teams coach Danny Smith that he can do an adequate job of covering kicks and punts too.
If the Steelers elect to stay “small” at the wide receiver position though, then a number of other players could take advantage if Brown and Moye fail to impress this month. Reggie Dunn (5’9′ 178 lbs.), Kashif Moore (5’10” 175 lbs.), David Gilreath (5’10” 169 lbs.), and J.D. Woods (6′ 203 lbs.) could all find ways to sneak onto Pittsburgh’s roster or practice squad.
Gilreath’s impressive showing in last year’s preseason led to him being signed to Pittsburgh’s practice squad, and the wide receiver/punt returner will look to do the same thing over the coming weeks. Like Gilreath, Moore and Woods will both try to make splashes on special teams as returners or on the coverage units. In addition, both will also need to shine as pass-catchers in the third and fourth quarters of Pittsburgh’s preseason games.
Due to his ability to return kickoffs, Dunn is arguably the most intriguing of the “smaller” pass-catchers though. The former Utah Ute returned five kickoffs for touchdowns during his collegiate career, and definitely has the type of electrifying speed to make any special teams coach interested.
Unfortunately for Dunn, he was rarely used as a wide receiver at Utah and only recorded 31 catches during his three years in college. Moreover, with LaRod Stephens-Howling and Sanders already in camp, Dunn will face some stiff competition from the veteran if Pittsburgh wants to utilize “The Hyphen” or even their starting wide receiver in the kick return game. If Dunn cannot illustrate any versatility compared to his peers, his chances to sticking and staying will be extremely slim.
For what it is worth, I think that the competition to replace Burress and secure a roster spot is a “two-man race” between Brown and Moye.
As I alluded to before, the Steelers need to add some size to their wide receiver corps and both players definitely have that going for them. The winner of that battle should earn a spot on the 53-man roster while the other will probably nail down one on the practice squad with one of the smaller pass-catchers.
With Burress likely finished, this young and inexperienced group of wide receivers will now have windows of opportunities to climb up the depth chart and shine during the preseason.
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