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Deep pass, like Wallace, still absent

| Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

The Steelers worked on the no-huddle offense during their second preseason game. But the bigger problem with Todd Haley's still-not-unwrapped system is that it is a no-Wallace offense.

Mike Wallace, the absentee wide receiver, had a locker with his No. 17 above it for the Steelers' 26-24 preseason win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night. Wallace, of course, was nowhere to be found, much like he was during a disappointing second half of last season in which Antonio Brown emerged as Ben Roethlisberger's favorite target.

But Wallace remains on the minds — and on the speed dials — of his teammates. Some of them were talking afterward about how Haley's offense figures to be more explosive, difficult to defend and unpredictable once what arguably is the NFL's fastest wide receiver ends his slow-to-end work stoppage.

Wallace certainly wasn't far from Brown's thoughts, even after Brown latched onto a Roethlisberger screen pass and sidestepped his way to a 57-yard touchdown. Without Wallace, this is what substitutes for a deep downfield throw these days.

Brown did a back flip into the end zone, a trick he said he picked up from Wallace's rookie season.

“I did that to reminisce of him,” said Brown, who, at age 24, doesn't seem old enough to be the nostalgic type. “I'm excited for his return.”

Then, in the very same breath, Brown added, “The offense has definitely got to get better. ... We've got a lot to improve. I don't think we got it done.”

The hidden message: Wallace, whose speed sends shivers down the back of every NFL defensive coordinator, will upgrade the offense substantially when he returns.

In two exhibition games, Roethlisberger and the starters have gained 144 yards on 34 plays and five drives, two of which ended in three-and-out punts. One ended in a field goal, another in an interception.

“Again, we're still working, individually and collectively,” coach Mike Tomlin said.

The “individually” part fits Wallace, who has been working out at Disney World, a destination that most NFL players aspire to reach after a Super Bowl win, not during a long and mostly hot summer.

“We're not running out of time,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said of a team that has not yet jelled, in part, because of Wallace's holdout. “We have a lot of time left. We have two games left and we're playing Sept. 9, so we have a lot of time to put this team together.”

It might seem a whole lot more together if Wallace were around; perhaps he will show up now that training camp has ended.

While Wallace didn't have more than 82 yards receiving in any game during the second half of last season, here's another statistic to consider: Over the past 30 years, only Jerry Rice and Randy Moss have more yards receiving and more touchdowns in their first three seasons than Wallace.

The Steelers were off Monday, but Tomlin told the team's website that Wallace himself will determine how quickly he progresses once he shows up.

“His overall readiness, his level of conditioning, his knowledge of what we're doing, how quickly he can come up to speed when he gets here — all of those things factor into how we move forward,” Tomlin said. “That's why I say I'm not going to anticipate anything or try to use a crystal ball. I'll just wait until it transpires and react accordingly.”

Tomlin does know this: The only deep ball thrown so far was Charlie Batch's 41-yarder Sunday to David Gilreath, a contender for the No. 5 receiver's job.

“We're not looking too good right now,” Brown said. “We're not where we want to be.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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