PITTSBURGH – Forget about pierogies and Primanti Brothers sandwiches, Pittsburgh is becoming known for its ribs – at least where the Steelers are concerned.
With backup quarterback Byron Leftwich and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery both suffering fractured ribs in last Sunday night’s 13-10 loss to Baltimore, three Steelers have suffered major rib injuries in the past two weeks, including starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Short on wide receivers and quarterbacks, the Steelers signed free agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress and quarterback Brian Hoyer Tuesday.
“We have a myriad of things going on in terms of the health of our own men,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
“Due to our injuries to a number of positions, we feel that we need to fortify our depth at those positions.”
Burress, a 2000 first-round draft pick of the Steelers, will begin his second stint in Pittsburgh. He spent five seasons with Pittsburgh, catching 261 passes for 4,214 yards and 22 touchdowns before leaving as a free agent for the New York Giants.
The 35-year-old receiver played four seasons for the Giants before being arrested for discharging a weapon in a public place after he accidentally shot himself in the leg after a gun he had in his pants pocket went off in a nightclub.
Burress served a mandatory two-year prison sentence for the incident.
Upon his release, Burress had a brief flirtation with the Steelers in training camp prior to the 2011 season before signing with the New York Jets instead. He caught 45 passes for 612 yards and eight touchdowns in 16 games – 13 starts – for the Jets, but was not brought back this season.
The Steelers briefly considered bringing him in for a workout in training camp when Mike Wallace in the midst of a contract holdout, but decided against the move.
But with Cotchery suffering what Tomlin called multiple fractured ribs late in the fourth quarter against the Ravens and Antonio Brown still slowed by an ankle injury that has kept him out of the past two games, the Steelers (6-4) were left with only Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and David Gilreath at wide receiver heading into Sunday’s game at Cleveland (2-8).
“He’s in really good physical condition based on the workout I just saw,” said Tomlin of Burress, who has worked at Tomlin’s youth football camp in Virginia the past couple of years.
“He’s got very good body control for a big man. He can drop his weight at break points. Obviously, he’s no stranger to football.”
In addition to Burress and Hoyer, the Steelers also worked out wide receiver Derrick Williams, who was with the team in training camp, and former Philadelphia Eagles backup Mike Kafka.
The need to sign Hoyer arose when the Steelers learned Leftwich would be unable to play this week after suffering two fractured ribs against the Ravens.
Charlie Batch, who turns 38 Dec. 5, will start in place of Leftwich, while Hoyer, who appeared in 13 games in three seasons with New England will be his backup.
Hoyer, 27, completed 27 of 43 passes for 286 yards, one touchdown and one interception for the Patriots as Tom Brady’s backup.
How long the Steelers might have to play with only Batch and Hoyer as their top two quarterbacks remains to be seen.
But Tomlin seemed optimistic regarding Roethlisberger, who suffered a sprained shoulder and dislocated rib two weeks ago against Kansas City. Roethlisberger is doubtful to play this week, but is healing well.
“He had additional tests done today,” Tomlin said. “All things are very positive in terms of where he is. We are encouraged about his status.”
Odds and end zones
Tomlin said Brown, right tackle Marcus Gilbert and strong safety Troy Polamalu are expected to attempt to practice this week and could play against the Browns. ... Defensive end Ziggy Hood (back) and running back Isaac Redman (concussion), both of whom were injured against the Ravens, are questionable to play this week. ... To make room on the roster, the Steelers released running back Baron Batch and linebacker Marshall McFadden.