NEW YORK -- For 20 months, Plaxico Burress cleaned toilets, mopped floors and served meals in prison, relying on his dream of returning to pro football to get through each day.
He knew that all he needed was a second chance.
"It was just being patient and letting everything come full circle," Burress said. "And I knew everything would work itself out."
That was the only way the wide receiver could approach things after going to prison on a gun charge -- a conviction that stemmed from Burress accidentally shooting himself in the leg at a nightclub in November 2008. The New York Jets gave him the opportunity to resume his career, signing him to a one-year deal a few weeks ago. After working his way through a sprained ankle early in training camp, Burress is ready to complete his comeback.
"I know what I'm capable of doing," Burress said, his confidence as high as ever. "Everybody expects (a drop-off because) I've been away for two years, and I just turned 34 and all those things. None of those things matter to me. I believe that I'm still one of the best out there competing and I'm not going to lose that mindset."
That's exactly what several of game's biggest names are thinking as they head into this season trying to revive their careers and redeem themselves on the field.
Reggie Bush heard all the fans in New Orleans who labeled him a bust. Same thing with Vince Young, who wore out his welcome in Tennessee. Shawne Merriman and Bob Sanders were once-dominant defensive stars who have been plagued by injuries.
Rams rookie Robert Quinn missed his last season of college after he was ruled ineligible by the NCAA.
Guys including Kevin Kolb and Braylon Edwards are hoping a change of scenery can work wonders for their careers.
And, do-overs aren't just for players. Coaches such as John Fox, Josh McDaniels and Wade Phillips are out to rebuild their reputations this season, too.
"This is the opportunity for the NFL to give guys what they deserve, second chances," said Jets receiver Santonio Holmes, who got one himself last year when the Steelers traded him to New York.
Bush, a huge star at Southern California, came to New Orleans with massive expectations. He had a handful of highlight-reel touchdowns during his five seasons with the Saints and helped them win a Super Bowl, but he also has missed 20 games during the last four years.
He also has never rushed for more than 581 yards or been to a Pro Bowl, something many thought would be a given. He was traded to Miami last month and signed a new deal for nearly $10 million.
"I don't think I have to change anything," he said. "I just have to keep doing what I have been doing on the field. Guys who know me, who have been my teammates or know me personally, know that I am one of the hardest workers. ... This is my sanctuary. This is where I get a chance to escape from all the things outside of the football field, so other than that there is nothing that I need to change."
Many thought Young had to adjust his attitude after five seesaw seasons in Tennessee. He was 30-17 as a starter, but struggled against top teams. There were also plenty of questions about his work ethic and maturity. The two-time Pro Bowl selection was cut last month and signed as a free agent a day later with Philadelphia, where he'll be a backup and get plenty of help from Michael Vick -- one of the league's poster boys for second chances.
"That's definitely behind me," Young said. "It was a learning experience and I'm a working product. There isn't anyone perfect in the league. As you see, as guys get older and more mature, they start to take off so I'm kind of in that mode right now."
Other former high draft picks looking for fresh starts elsewhere include Aaron Maybin, a former Bills linebacker who signed with the Jets after two disappointing seasons, and Vernon Gholston, who was cut by the Jets and signed with the Bears. Chicago has actually been one of the top spots for reclamation projects this offseason with Amobi Okoye and Roy Williams joining Gholston in the Windy City.
Quinn was unsure when or where his NFL career would even get started when he was suspended before last season for accepting improper benefits from an agent while at North Carolina. He started 24 of 25 games during a two-year stint with the Tar Heels and recorded 13 sacks and drew lots of interest. Quinn was drafted by St. Louis in the first round and is expected to make a quick impact as a pass-rushing specialist.
"I'm just trying to knock this rust off," Quinn said, "and get to playing some football."
So is Merriman, who was once one of the most dominant defensive players in the league with nearly 40 sacks from 2005-07. But the man nicknamed "Lights Out" has seen his career dim. Injuries limited him to only 18 games during the last three years, and off-field troubles and steroid allegations dogged him.
He was waived by San Diego last November and claimed by Buffalo the next day. In his first workout with the Bills, he suffered a season-ending Achilles' injury. He re-signed with Buffalo in January and was terrific in his first preseason game with the Bills, notching two sacks. Merriman was expected to miss the team's next game to rest a sore right knee, but only as a precaution.
"Well, I have something to prove to these guys here," Merriman said. "That's my main thing. I know personally I can still play. You can look on the film and see me playing. But to be a factor to the point where these guys are going to benefit for me playing at my best, that's what I need to prove."
Sanders, a former AP Defensive Player of the Year, knows the feeling. When healthy, he was a dominant presence at safety for Indianapolis. But those moments were too few and far between. He'll try to stay on the field with his new team after signing with the Chargers last month.
Some guys just need a new place to get an opportunity. Kolb was blocked first by Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia, and then by Vick. He was a hot commodity this offseason and was traded to Arizona last month for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick in 2012. Kolb will finally get a chance to be a full-time starter after waiting for four seasons.
"I think I can play and I think the people who have watched me think I can play," Kolb said. "Obviously my last two or three years I've been through a lot."
Edwards started over a few years ago when he was traded from Cleveland to New York and enjoyed two successful seasons with the Jets. But a DWI charge tarnished his time in New York, and the Jets chose to make Holmes their priority in the offseason.
So, Edwards waited for teams to show interest before San Francisco recently signed him to a one-year deal.
"I think I've put myself in some situations that I'm to blame for," he said. "And coming out here is a good, fresh start to get a clean, fresh slate with people that I trust, with the team that supported me through what they know I'm going through and that's enough for me."
He's providing the 49ers with the big presence they needed. In a recent practice, quarterback Alex Smith pointed at Edwards after they connected for a long completion, quickly developing a rapport.
"I think Braylon's doing a really good job thus far of picking things up and I really think his attitude has been phenomenal," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "I think if he keeps progressing, he's going to be a real asset for us."
Denver thought the same of Fox, whose contract was not renewed by Carolina after nine seasons. He took over as the Broncos coach and replaced McDaniels, who was fired late last season and is now the offensive coordinator of the Rams.
Rather than take a season off, Fox decided to immediately return to coaching in the NFL.
"I did have options, but I am extremely competitive," he said. "That is probably all the more reason why I am here today. I wanted to jump back in and erase that. It would be no different than if I were the head coach here and we finished with that same record. I would be just as enthusiastic to get it back rolling again."
Phillips was canned by Dallas last November, but rebounded by being hired as the defensive coordinator in Houston.
"When you get fired, it's usually, 'Hey, he was fired because he can't win,"' Phillips said. "It wasn't 'cause I couldn't win. I couldn't win enough."