Wallace says he's 'ready to roll'
Mike Wallace is one of the NFL's fastest players, yet the Steelers' main priority less than two weeks before opening their season is getting their game-changing wide receiver up to speed.
That means rushing him full-tilt into Todd Haley's offense, which Ben Roethlisberger warned will still require learning at midseason. That means getting him enough contact and route running during four practices next week that he'll be ready Sept. 9 in Denver, an important game that could reveal how good the Steelers will be coming off consecutive 12-4 seasons.
His 35-day holdout finally over, it's full speed ahead for Wallace.
“My teammates need me. It's time to get ready for the season. I felt like it was time to go,” Wallace said Tuesday after signing his $2.742 million tender for 2012. “I am ready to roll. I am here.”
The Steelers won't negotiate contracts during a season, so Wallace has less than two weeks to secure a long-term deal; otherwise, he will play out the season and become an unrestricted free agent. Wallace said only, “I am not worried about contracts.”
But, as Ryan Clark said, “You don't want to be embarrassed. As a receiver, you don't want to go out there and drop balls, you don't want to run the wrong route. I think Mike's going to have that frame of mind. If he wants to get the type of contract he's searching for, he's going to have to play well. It's going to be about Mike Wallace showing the world and showing the league.”
Multiple teammates insisted they're not angry that Wallace missed all those hot-weather practices in Latrobe and months of preparation dating to last spring. Fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown said, “It's why we're all here. It's a business first.”
Wallace reviewed his playbook periodically over the phone with wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery while working out in Florida, although Emmanuel Sanders said, “He's definitely not familiar with some of the concepts.”
“You're talking about a guy who's a wide receiver, a pass catcher,” Haley said. “It's not like a running back who really has to be in the action of the game. … His job is to run fast and catch the football, and he's been doing a lot of that. Obviously, the game speed, and hits and tackling and things like that, we'll have to beat him up a little bit next week.”
After the Steelers conclude the preseason Thursday against Carolina, they won't practice again until Monday.
“To me, it's about how much work Mike has been putting in on his own in the playbook,” Roethlisberger said. “I know he's been working out physically, but mentally, has he been working out?“
Haley has experience in getting players ready in little time after they were picked up near the start of a season.
“The big thing will be some of the situational football, the no-huddle and two minute (drill),” Haley said. “We'll have to be cramming to get him to have a full understanding, because obviously if we can have him out there (in Denver), we'd like to have him out there.”
Wallace had much to prove even before he held out. After starting last season with three consecutive 100-yard games, he had only one more in the next 13 games. He was limited to 26 yards receiving in the playoff loss in Denver.
Wallace's first three seasons statistically (171 catches, 3,206 yards, 24 touchdowns) are among the best for any NFL receiver over the last 30 seasons. That's why Roethlisberger believes this was a test drive that was worth the extended wait.
“It's kind of like the parents getting you a new car, but it has to sit in the driveway because you don't have any insurance. Once you get that insurance, you can take it out for a ride,” Roethlisberger said. “We're excited to get him out there and rolling.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.