If anyone ever hit the nail on the head. Less is sometimes more!
Steelers' wide receivers will display versatility, diversity
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers' receivers, from left to right, Antwaan Randle El, Hines Ward and Cedrick Wilson, believe their versatility will create a better passing game than last year..
Life after Plaxico Burress might not be so bad, Hines Ward believes. It could be better, for Ward and for the Steelers' passing game as a whole.
The names of the receiving game now are versatility and diversity. It's no knock against the 6-foot-5 Burress, Ward emphasized, but he, Antwaan Randle El and newcomer Cedrick Wilson can do more with less height.
"I know Plax was an integral part as far as he gave you that height," Ward said, "but with Antwaan's versatility, my versatility and you add in Ced's versatility, we've been playing a lot of interchangeable positions, where Plax, he was our deep-threat guy."
The Steelers hope to use the speed and quickness of Randle El and Wilson to make up for the loss of Burress. All three are practicing the basic three wide receiver positions -- X (split end), Z (flanker) and F (slot). They also are disguising those positions more this spring to the point that the X can line up in the slot, yet remain, essentially, the split end. They did some of that with Burress last season, but not often.
"We tried to put him in the slot, but, when we did that teams knew we were trying to get him the ball in the slot, because he never played it," Ward said. "But Antwaan and myself, we can go X and the Z. So, I might get some deeper routes down the field."
Ward chafes at being labeled a possession receiver and noted that his 12.6 yards per catch last season compared favorably to many of the top receivers in the league. Marvin Harrison averaged 12.9 yards a catch, Eric Moulds 11.9, Chad Johnson 13.4 and Derrick Mason 12.2 -- all among the leading receivers in the AFC. Ward caught five passes for 109 yards (21.8 average) and a 30-yard touchdown in the AFC championship game and also had 105 yards against the New York Jets in the playoffs.
With Burress gone, the 6-foot Ward becomes the tallest receiver of the top three. Randle El and Wilson stand 5-10.
"Maybe I'll get some fades in the end zone or something," Ward said, laughing. "I think I've worked harder to this point because I have more to prove now. People say you can't do it without Plax. It has nothing to do with Plax. Plax is gone, let's move on."
Before Ward, 85 receptions in a season was the Steelers' record. He topped that three of the past four years. His total slipped to 80 last season mostly because the Steelers ran the ball 61 percent of the time, more often than any NFL team in the past 20 years. Nevertheless, he caught the highest percentage of passes for his team than any of the top receivers in the league.
"If I don't go out and catch 80, 90 balls, it's not because Plax isn't here," Ward said. "If I only get 80 opportunities and catch 70 of those 80, it doesn't mean I was affected by Plax. It's a total team effort, no one guy can control it. If that was the case, Minnesota wouldn't have let Randy Moss go. You want a makeup of great team and at the wideout position. We have that. Yes, we lost Plax, but we're starting to jell with one another and complement one another."
By having all three receivers play all three positions, coordinator Ken Whisenhunt hopes to confuse defenses more in 2005.
"We always had Plax in a certain spot," Whisenhunt said. "Everybody kind of knew he would be there. The advantage we have now with Cedrick, Randle El and Hines, these guys are all interchangeable. You can line them up anywhere. "Sometimes defenses would set their fronts, based on how the receivers lined up because they knew Plax was the X and Hines was the Z. Having three guys so versatile makes us a little bit harder to defend, I hope."