|Wallace and Mendenhall could start Week 1. (US Presswire)|
That didn't take long. The rending of garments and gnashing of teeth by Steelers fans over Mike Wallace's decision to sit out training camp and the preseason is already a distant memory and Wallace hasn't been back a week.
In fact, coach Mike Tomlin, who isn't much for hyperbole, admitted to being impressed with Wallace's knowledge of the playbook. Any other year, this wouldn't be an issue but the Steelers parted ways with offensive coordinator Bruce Arians this spring and hired Todd Haley to replace him. Teammate Antonio Brown said early in the offsesaon that Wallace had stopped by the facility to pick up a playbook and apparently he did more than use it as a door stop.
“I have been studying it,” Wallace said following Monday's practice according to the team's website. “I have a good grasp of it. It's just running the plays off of it. I am getting there. I like where I am at.
And how did that translate to the field?
“I felt good. I just have to get in the football way,” he said. “I surprised myself by how good I did as far as the plays. It's cool. I am getting there. I can't wait to put pads on. … The main thing is the timing aspect of it, just getting back to knowing what Ben (Roethlisberger) likes, what I like. It's not going to be hard because we have been together so long. It's just a new offense. He just has to make sure I know what I am doing. I did pretty good today but it was only one day, we have a long way to go.”
So maybe we all made too big a deal of Wallace spending the last six months away from the team while waiting on a new deal. Last week, Haley seemed unconcerned and apparently for good reason.
"You're talking about a guy who's a wide receiver, a pass-catcher," he said. "It's not a running back or someone who has to be in the action of the game. I think it's feasible he's ready to go when we start this thing up."
And once Wallace showed up on the South Side, wide receivers coach Scott Montgomery spent the weekend getting him up to speed.
“He gave me a big jump with that,” said Wallace. “Coach is always a good person about that. He loves working anyway. He didn't want me to go home. He was in there keeping me working. He had me go downstairs, get some fluid, and come right back up. Those days, those hours, really helped and I appreciate that.”
So what does this mean for the Steelers' Sunday-night opener against the Broncos? Third-year wideout Emmanuel Sanders thinks Wallace will be in the starting lineup. But even if he's not that's beside the point; Denver will have to game plan for Wallace regardless of where he's penciled in on the depth chart. That's the value he brings to an offense (which the Steelers reportedly estimated at $10 million a year while Wallace valued is somewhere north of that).
The news gets better: Tomlin said Tuesday that running back Rashard Mendenhall could start the opener. This is the same Rashard Mendenhall who tore his ACL against the Browns late last season and was thought to be headed for the physically-unable-to-perform list as recently as two weeks ago. Now not only has he progressed to the point where he avoided six weeks on the PUP, he could be on the field come Sunday night.
“I'll leave the door open for all of them,” Tomlin said Tuesday about the prospects of Wallace, Mendenhall and linebacker James Harrison starting vs. Denver (via SteelCityInsider.net's Jim Wexell). “We'll see how they respond to the workload.”
Mendenhall impressed more than Tomlin with his work Monday.
Defensive captain Brett Keisel said “He looked incredible." And linebacker Lawrence Timmons added, “I thought he looked great. He was running well, finishing runs. I'm excited for him.”
The Steelers' 2012 season begins where the 2011 season ended and they'll be healthier than most folks expected as recently as a week ago. Upside: they won't have to face Tim Tebow (never thought we'd be saying that). Downside: they'll get Peyton Manning in his first game since 2010.
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