Make no mistake, Emmanuel Sanders is no Dez Bryant, at least not when it comes to exhibiting training-camp protocol.
Sanders, a rookie wide receiver from pass-happy Southern Methodist, was more than happy to carry Hines Ward's shoulder pads off the practice field at St. Vincent College -- something Bryant, a rookie, refused to do for veterans at the Dallas Cowboys training camp.
"It's like a rite of passage," said Sanders, a third-round draft choice. "That's what rookies do."
Sanders is hoping to do something else that a rookie wide receiver did last year for the Steelers: Be a big contributor in the offense.
He is hoping to follow the path of Mike Wallace, a third-round draft choice in 2009 who won the battle as the team's No. 3 receiver and ended up catching six touchdown passes and averaging a team-high 19.6 yards per catch.
Sanders is off to a good start, already impressing the coaches and fellow receivers with his speed, quickness and route-running ability.
"He's ahead of where Michael was as a route-runner," said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who called Wallace the best rookie receiver he has had in 12 years.
"He has it," Wallace said. "You can see it in him. He has that swagger about himself. He has a great feel for the game. You can see it already. He can find holes [in the coverage], he can run great routes already. He just has the hips to do it."
Sanders was a big-play receiver at SMU, where he played in the slot in June Jones' run-and-shoot offense and caught 98 passes for 1,339 yards and six touchdowns. He finished his career as SMU's all-time leader in catches (235), receiving yards (3,791), 100-yard receiving games (16) and touchdowns catches (34).
With the Steelers, he is being used on the outside behind Wallace -- the split-end, or X, position formerly manned by Santonio Holmes. The Steelers already have Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El at the flanker, or Z, position, along with another rookie, Antonio Brown, their sixth-round pick from Central Michigan.
"Coach Jones' system didn't do anything but help me out," Sanders said. "It taught me how to read coverages on the run, and that's what it takes to be great receiver in this league -- you got to be able to read coverages.
"The only negative is, in college, I played in the slot and now I'm outside here, so it's a little different. The ball takes longer to get there and everything, so I'm just trying to get real comfortable on the outside. I'm starting to get there."
The Steelers have noticed.
Coach Mike Tomlin pointed out that Sanders was one of the players who kept working out and watching film at the team's South Side facility after the off-season workouts were over. Sanders said he worked with wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery and also watched video of Ward and Holmes in every game in 2008 and 2009.
"I critiqued both of their routes and everything," Sanders said. "I learned a lot about how to come out of my routes, where I need to be, my landmarks. It definitely made me better."
In all likelihood, Sanders will begin the season as the team's No. 4 receiver, although he is in a battle for the spot with Brown and veteran Arnaz Battle, who will play special teams.
"He's fast, but I don't think anyone is as fast as Mike," Arians said of Sanders, comparing him to Wallace.
"It's just knowing what the quarterback is thinking, where he can find you.
"If you're running in the wrong spot and you beat your man, you're still running in the wrong spot. You have to learn where his reception area is. He'll be fine."
Just like carrying shoulder pads.
Gerry Dulac: email@example.com . First Published August 5, 2010 4:00 AM