LATROBE, Pa. - Plaxico Burress turns 36 on Monday, an age the Pittsburgh Steelers receiver jokes makes him "grandpa" in a locker room filled with kids who weren't even playing Pop Warner when Burress made his NFL debut nine months after the turn of the millennium.
Look closely enough at Burress' still impossibly youthful face and you'll see a fleck or two of gray in his chin stubble. It's only when Burress talks that the years - and the perspective they provide - become evident.
In the twilight of a career that remains enigmatic at best and erratic at worst, this is Burress' last stand. He knows it. Even more, he's OK with it.
"I tell some of the younger guys, these rookies coming in, I wouldn't want to be in those shoes for nothing in the world," Burress said Wednesday. "With what I've learned in this business and going through it and knowing what it's about and having the dreams and aspirations we all come in with as young players, I've been fortunate enough to live them all out."
One very public nightmare too.
Burress lost two years of his prime while spending 20 months in prison on a gun charge from 2009-11, an incident that will forever shade a resume that includes the game-winning touchdown for the New York Giants in the 2008 Super Bowl.
A different person emerged from prison than the one that went in. Stripped of his freedom, Burress has spent two seasons embracing the role of elder statesman, first with the New York Jets and now with the team that chose him with the eighth overall selection in the 2000 NFL Draft.
His presence in the meeting room - where Jerricho Cotchery is the only other receiver born within a decade of Burress - is a calming presence for budding star Antonio Brown and a group of 20-somethings that include Emmanuel Sanders and third-round pick Markus Wheaton.
"I just try to help these guys understand," Burress said. "The game, everything, it just moves faster here."
Just not, Burress believes, too fast for him to be effective. Signed to provide needed depth last November, Burress struggled to get onto the field. He managed three receptions in three games, spending another three weeks on the inactive list.
Bumped to second string for the first time in his career, Burress understands the window to earn a roster spot is small. Brown and Sanders are the entrenched starters. Wheaton is expected to provide some of the burst lost when Mike Wallace left for Miami in free agency. Cotchery is the third-down guy.
That leaves little wiggle room for Burress, even though he insists he's not counting reps or trying to figure out if he is being targeted as much as everybody else.
Maybe he's lost a step. Then again, Burress points out he's not sure having "a step" was ever part of his game.
"I've never ran a 4.3, a 4.4 (40-yard dash) and I never will," he said. "But I'm going to find a way to get open and catch the football."
Tight end Matt Spaeth, out since the weekend with a knee injury, practiced Wednesday, but was carted off the field midway through with an unspecified injury. . Coach Mike Tomlin said CB Curtis Brown's ankle injury suffered Monday isn't believed to be serious. . The Steelers practiced in pads Wednesday after an off day on Tuesday. S Troy Polamalu, RB Le'Veon Bell and LBs Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds returned to practice after sitting out on Monday due to minor bumps and bruises. . The Steelers have one more practice open to the public Thursday at St. Vincent College before their first preseason game Saturday at home against the Giants.