By Christina Rivers
After news spread that Byron Leftwich would be replaced by veteran quarterback Charlie Batch due to a rib injury and that the Pittsburgh Steelers had signed receiver Plaxico Burress and quarterback Brian Hoyer, practice Wednesday was a mix of infectious candor. Head Coach Mike Tomlin insists that any changes that are made to the offense “will be subtle”. The Steelers expect a competitive game against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
“We’ve got a great deal of confidence in Charlie (Batch),” said Tomlin. “One thing that I can say about this quarterback situation, as uncomfortable as it may be or may appear to be, it is not something that we’re foreign to…we’ve been as far as three and four deep in terms of playing quarterbacks in recent years.” Tomlin added, “Those guys do an awesome job of rallying and answering the bell. We expect them to. So, we’re excited about [Batch] preparing and leading us this week.”
Rookie guard David DeCastro, who has been on the injured reserve/designated for return list for most of the season, was able to return to practice Wednesday. It is the first time he has been able to participate since he injured his knee in a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. After practice, DeCastro said, “It went well. I feel like it’s been a long, long time. I have been doing stuff with the assistant strength coach, football stuff but nothing like going against NFL players.”
Burress gave some of his time to the press, many of whom had some big questions about his return to Pittsburgh. “I just want to come in and have an impact, learn and teach some of the young guys some old tricks. I just want to go out and play football and have fun.” Everyone wanted to know how it felt to be back in Pittsburgh. “It feels great,” said Burress. “There is a comfort level here. A lot of the guys are still here [from] when I was here.” Burress said that he told Coach Tomlin that he was willing to play in whatever capacity the team needs him. When asked about the receiving corps of the Steelers, Burress admitted he was impressed. “I don’t think I’ve ever been around a collection of better receivers,” he said. “I’ve trained with Antonio Brown in South Florida in the summer. I know him pretty well. I know Jerricho Cotchery. To come in and have them embrace me, have some laughs and jokes, it feels good.”
Hoyer expressed his feelings about having an opportunity to be with the Steelers by saying, “It’s great.” Hoyer wanted to take advantage of the opportunity after being removed from NFL play for 11 weeks. “Now that I’m here, I’m just trying to submerge myself in the system and learn as much as I can before Sunday, and go from there.” Hoyer worked out Tuesday and then was active in practice on Wednesday. When asked about his readiness, Hoyer admitted, “I’m going to be as ready as I can…I just have to be ready to do what I have to do.”
Offensive lineman Max Starks was questioned about Burress and Batch and how he feels about both players. “I’m really appreciative to have them back and have them in the positions that they’re in. We’re going to keep on rolling.” That feeling of ‘keep rolling’ seemed to permeate throughout practice.
The Steelers don’t care that the Browns have a 2-8 record. They’re too busy focusing on individual matchups and the overall team. “They’ve been in some highly competitive games,” said Tomlin. “They beat Cincinnati, they were in the Indy game and the game last week went into overtime.” Tomlin said that Cleveland shouldn’t be overlooked because the Browns are competitive. “They play for 60 minutes, we respect them and our focus is on our preparation and ultimately our play.”
The defense will be locked on to containing Cleveland’s rookie running back Trent Richardson. Richardson leads the team in rushing with 670 yards and five touchdowns. The Steelers can’t focus on him beating the turf during the entire game. Richardson also leads the Browns through Week 10 at the receiver spot, logging 37 catches for 289 yards and a touchdown. “[Richardson] is good for [the Browns] in all circumstances, first, second and third-down, short yardage, goal line and in the red area,” said Tomlin. After bottling up Ray Rice last weekend, for the most part, the Steelers defense know that a double-threat guy like Richardson will be very active.
Six Steelers players were not able to participate on Wednesday. Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery is suffering from multiple rib fractures and the feeling is that he will be out indefinitely. Defensive end Ziggy Hood suffered a lower back injury in the game against the Ravens and sat out of practice. Tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle), quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (rib, shoulder), safety Troy Polamalu (calf) and quarterback Byron Leftwich (ribs) were all kept from practice.
Receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) was able to participate in limited action. Safety Will Allen (shoulder), running back Isaac Redman (concussion) and linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring) were full participants.
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.