FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Plaxico Burress spent two hours each day he served in prison running 300-yard sprints and catching passes from inmates who regarded themselves as some of the N.F.L.’s legendary quarterbacks.
“We had a couple of guys who thought they were Sammy Baugh, scrambling Fran Tarkenton, John Elway, Dan Marino,” Burress said. “I played with them all.”
Now Burress is back to playing with a real, live N.F.L. quarterback and working to become integrated into his new offense.
Burress, who signed with the Jets this summer after serving 20 months on a gun charge at Oneida Correctional Facility in Rome, N.Y., had a strong debut and contributed to the offense in ways that transcend statistics, like drawing coverage away from his teammates. But the transition has at times been uncomfortable for the Jets, and Burress and Mark Sanchez are still in the process of developing chemistry in their connection.
“He knows we’re Week 2 of a marathon,” Sanchez said. “He’s in it for the long haul. He has a really good feel for this and the longevity of the season, so he’s not fazed about it at all.”
In the Jets’ 27-24 win over the Dallas Cowboys in their season opener, Burress had four receptions for 72 yards, all of them in the second half. He caught a 26-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter that started the Jets’ 17-point comeback.
Last Sunday, Burress did not have a reception in the Jets’ 32-3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the first time since January 2006 that he did not have a catch. That was because of the Jaguars’ bracketing him with cornerback-safety coverage, a show of respect that opened the field for tight end Dustin Keller, who had six catches for 101 yards and a touchdown.
Burress played only about two-thirds of the Jets’ offensive snaps, while Santonio Holmes played about three-quarters of the team’s plays. The Jets often deploy multiple tight end packages that force Burress to the sideline. But Burress, who led the Giants with 12 touchdown catches (and the one that sealed a Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots) in the 2007 season, has acknowledged that his reduced role with the Jets has been an adjustment.
“I’ve always been a guy that’s been on the field all the time,” said Burress, who is especially dangerous in the red zone. “I just take it as I’m just not in a certain package or whatever it may be. Maybe I don’t fit the scheme of whatever they’re trying to do at that particular point.”
Indeed, the Jets’ coaches appear to still be learning how to use Burress. At times, Coach Rex Ryan has tried to force him the ball. One sequence that crystallized that notion came early in the fourth quarter Sunday, when the Jets had a 29-3 lead.
Sanchez threw twice to Burress while near the Jaguars’ end zone. After overthrowing an open Burress on first down, Sanchez tried to connect with a well-covered Burress in the corner of the end zone on third-and-goal from the 5.
“We were in the red zone, and he’s obviously a red-zone target for us,” the offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said of that play. “We were still working on some things.”
The Jets may have an opportunity to get Burress more involved this weekend in Oakland because of some mismatches he presents with the Raiders’ secondary.
For years in Oakland, man-to-man coverage with a safety deep in the middle of the field has been the standard look of the defense. That means the Raiders may be relying on the 6-foot-1 cornerbacks Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson to cover the 6-5 Burress.
“If you’re a wide receiver, these are the kind of games you love to play in,” Burress said.
Sunday will be the latest step in Burress’s return to the N.F.L., and it could provide a telling indication about where he fits in the Jets’ offense. He said learning the verbiage of the playbook had been the most difficult on-field aspect of his comeback.
He has also had to build a rapport with Sanchez, the latest quarterback he has worked with over the past two years. Except the stakes, and the setting, are much different now.
Rex Ryan indicated that center Nick Mangold, who has a sprained right ankle, was unlikely to play on Sunday. Mangold did not practice for a second straight day. Colin Baxter would start if Mangold, who has started 82 straight games, cannot play. ... The Jets’ punters and kickers went to the Newark Bears’ baseball stadium to practice kicking on infield dirt. The Raiders’ O.co Coliseum also serves as the home to the Athletics, who played the Texas Rangers on Thursday in their last game there this season.