FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) - Plaxico Burress realizes he’s not 25 anymore. Or even 31 _ the age he was when he last played in the NFL.
None of that matters to the new Jets wide receiver. And, he’s eager to show why no one else should worry about it, either.
“I would say that when I step on this field Thursday or Friday, I’ll look 25,” Burress said as the Jets opened training camp Monday. “I feel that good physically.”
Burress, who turns 34 on Aug. 12, was back on an NFL field _ but he can’t practice just yet _ for the first time since being released from prison after serving 20 months on a gun charge. The Jets signed him Sunday to a one-year deal, hoping he can revive his career the way Michael Vick has with the Eagles.
Vick missed two seasons while serving prison time for his involvement in a dogfighting ring before returning to football in 2009. He was eased back into things by the Eagles before taking over as the starting quarterback last year and capping a terrific, highlight-filled season by being selected the AP’s Comeback Player of the Year.
“He’s been a good friend of mine for a long time,” Burress said. “For him to come back at that elite level, it just shows a lot about him and his drive and his makeup. I’m just happy for him, and if it wasn’t for maybe him going through what he went through, maybe I wouldn’t be here today.”
Burress is a former Super Bowl star with the Giants. He caught the winning touchdown pass in the upset of the unbeaten New England Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl before his career derailed after he accidentally shot himself in a New York nightclub later that year.
After being released from prison, Burress worked out near his home in South Florida with several NFL quarterbacks including Matthew Stafford, Brady Quinn, Drew Stanton and Byron Leftwich. He worked on his route running and pass catching, and that experience gives him the confidence he can be a star wide receiver in the NFL again.
“It just feels like I never left,” he said. “I do expect some rust at some point, but I feel great and I’m healthy, which I haven’t been in a long, long time. And I think that’s going to be the difference in me getting back to where I want to be.”
Quarterback Mark Sanchez, who one of several teammates who chatted on the sideline with Burress during the morning walkthrough and afternoon practice, has already been impressed with what he has seen.
“He’s picking up the offense very quickly, which is no surprise,” Sanchez said.
Burress, wearing a green visor, gray long-sleeved T-shirt and Jets shorts, and every other newly signed free agent in the league can’t practice until the union ratifies the labor agreement with the owners.
“Patience, man,” he said. “I’ve been away and that’s one of the greatest things I’ve learned through this whole process is that it’s all coming together. Just take it one day at a time and be patient. You know it’s coming. Today’s Monday and I’m itching a little bit to get back out there, but it’s slowly coming. I’m not in a rush. It’ll be here before you know it.”
Even before the nightclub incident, Burress was sometimes considered a malcontent, someone who was late for team meetings and didn’t always appear motivated. But, he said, that was back then.
“I went through a lot of different things emotionally during that time,” Burress said. “I had all the time in the world to think about so many things that I did. Being that I’m here now, I really don’t have the time to reflect on any of the things I did negatively because it’s so far away from where I want to be as a person first and as a player.
“I’m in a happy place right now.”
While Burress signed for just over $3 million guaranteed, he insists it wasn’t all about the money. The fact that general manager Mike Tannenbaum and Jets owner Woody Johnson met with him in the spring of 2009, when his legal status was unclear and he was a free agent after the Giants released him, made a lasting impression _ on both sides.
“You look at these guys and what they have here, they’re building a great football team,” Burress said.
Johnson said the new rules of free agency have made it difficult for the Jets to maneuver, but the team has always been impressed with Burress. He even revealed that he was interested in drafting him out of Michigan State in 2000. Burress went eighth overall to Pittsburgh, four selections before New York drafted Shaun Ellis and John Abraham with consecutive picks.
“We didn’t have a lot of surplus cash,” Johnson said. “This is a perfect fit for us with Plax.”
Holmes has been wearing a yellow and black bracelet on his wrist that has the words “Free Plax aka Black” enscribed on it, something several players got when Burress went to prison in 2009 as a show of support.
“This is the opportunity for the NFL to give guys what they deserve, second chances,” said Holmes, who was traded to the Jets by Pittsburgh last year after he had his own issues with the Steelers. “Second chances are there in the real world for us to get a job.”
When Holmes was at the team’s facility re-signing with the Jets over the weekend, Tannenbaum and coach Rex Ryan asked him what he thought about Burress.
“I showed my bracelet … and the next day they signed the deal,” Holmes said. “I called him that night, and he signed the next day.”
Ryan acknowledged that the move to bring in Burress is somewhat of a “leap of faith,” but one the Jets needed to make after recently watching game tape from a few years ago.
“So, I’m watching this tape, his point-attack tape,” Ryan said. “I’m like, `Oh, my goodness. Let’s go get this guy. Are we crazy?’”
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