On the Steelers: Wallace the next receiving star?

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Lost in the Steelers' loss in Cincinnati, in the dropped touchdown by Limas Sweed, in the pick-six wrong route taken by Santonio Holmes, in the defense blowing another fourth-quarter lead, there appeared a gem.

Rookie Mike Wallace caught seven passes for 102 yards in his third NFL game.

A little perspective on that: It took Hall of Famer John Stallworth until his seventh NFL game to reach 100, Hall of Famer Lynn Swann and Plaxico Burress their second seasons, and Troy Edwards not at all with the Steelers. Hines Ward did not get his first 100-yard game until his fourth season.

The only one faster? Louis Lipps with 183 yards on six receptions in his very first game as a pro.

Could Wallace become the next receiving star for the Steelers?

"He has all the potential and makings to be great," declared Ward.

Wallace has the size, speed and apparently the doggedness to do so. Ward once said he had to remind Burress often to hit his playbook. He does not have that problem with Wallace.

"He's a great student of the game," Ward said. "It's rare you have to tell him something over and over. He's one of the first ones here. He wants to learn. When you see a talent such as his, I want to make sure I go out and enhance that and he becomes better. Then when I'm long gone and I'm watching him on TV making plays, I'll know I had an impact on his career."

Wallace, a third-round draft choice from Mississippi, has 12 receptions for 147 yards after his big day in Cincinnati. It might have been bigger had he not stepped out of bounds at the 10 after catching a 51-yard pass in the open to start the second quarter.

"I focused on the ball so much I wasn't paying attention to where my momentum was taking me," Wallace said. "I didn't know I was that close to the sideline."

But, and listen up, Sweed ...

"You can't go anywhere without the ball. The main thing is catching it. Hopefully the next time I can catch it and stay in bounds for the touchdown."

Wallace was first placed at the flanker spot, where Ward plays. Then he learned split end, where Holmes plays.

No rookie ever reached 1,000 yards receiving with the Steelers and that would be a stretch for Wallace as their No. 3 man. But he has the ability to get yards in big chunks. In Chicago, he streaked open deep and would have had a 62-yard touchdown had Ben Roethlisberger not been hit as he threw, resulting in an interception instead.

The quarterback is aware he must release the ball quickly when he's throwing it to the speedy Wallace.

"You don't want to underthrow him, so you've got to get it out and let him run under it," Roethlisberger said. "If you overthrow him, it's a rarity but it's better than underthrowing him."

His coaches want to see how Wallace responds against San Diego, and they're looking for a better outcome than Rashard Mendenhall's last week.

"That was a breakout game for him," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "It's kinda like Rashard: What do you do with success? Can you maintain it? He's had a good week of practice. I think his confidence level is up.

"He'll start seeing a little different coverage," Arians said of the San Diego Chargers. "These guys are solid corners; they're really going to test us."

Mendenhall may be in

Willie Parker watched practice again yesterday, and he said his big toe still pains him. Although he will try to practice today, there's a chance Mendenhall will climb out of that doghouse that coach Mike Tomlin does not have and into the starting lineup Sunday.

"Rashard had a great week of practice," said Arians, who indicated third-down back Mewelde Moore could also play there if Parker cannot go.

"We'll see how [Parker] is. I feel very confident in Mewelde and Rashard. We'll see how it plays out. Coach will make that decision as we go along."

One decision already made is that Troy Polamalu will not return to play this week, and that never was the plan. Polamalu, who is still slightly limping after tearing a knee ligament in the opener, hopes to return by Oct. 11 at Detroit.

Center Justin Hartwig, though, did return to practice, as did tight end Matt Spaeth, and both will play Sunday.

Sweed update

Sweed, who declined to speak Wednesday after Tomlin demoted him to the bottom of the wide receiver depth chart, spoke about his drop in the end zone of what would have been a 34-yard touchdown catch Sunday in Cincinnati.

"An opportunity came and I didn't make it. There's nothing more to be said about it. No shoulda, coulda, woulda, no what-if. It's black and white: You have to make the play. I didn't make the play and there's no excuses behind it."

Sweed said there's one way to overcome the series of drops he has had in his two seasons with the Steelers and that is to "just make the plays, plain and simple."

"It's not rocket science; there's no mystery behind it. You just have to make the plays."

For more on the Steelers, read the new blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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