The Steelers' Mike Wallace hauls in pass from Ben Roethlisberger for a touchdown in 2011.
By Ray Fittipaldo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Now that a date has been determined for when holdout receiver Mike Wallace will return to the Steelers, the team can contemplate other questions surrounding their big-play receiver.
Assuming Wallace has been staying in good shape, the most important question to be answered is how quickly he can pick up Todd Haley's offense.
The consensus among his teammates Wednesday was that it won't be much of a problem.
"It depends on how much he's been doing while he's been away," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said after practice Wednesday afternoon. "From what he's told me, he's been working out, not just on his conditioning and his strength, but working through the offense.
"It could be a little bit of a challenge, but, if he's been putting in the work that he's told me he's been doing, I think he'll be fine."
Wallace, who is expected to report to the team this weekend, has been absent since the season ended in January because he was not happy with his contract situation. He was given a copy of the new playbook in the spring, but he did not attend the team's voluntary offseason program or the mandatory minicamp in June.
"Mike is a very intelligent guy, so picking up the offense won't be hard for him at all," receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "The offense will be pretty easy for him to get down."
Even though the terminology is different, Wallace's role on the team won't change all that much. When he arrives, he'll step into his old role as the team's deep threat and put pressure on defensive coordinators to account for him every play.
"Mike is a big part of our team," running back Isaac Redman said. "He's a great player. He allows us to stretch defenses and have that deep threat. I'm looking forward to him coming back. He's also a good friend of mine. It'll be good to have him back in the locker room."
Entering his fourth season, Wallace made a name for himself the past few years with fellow young receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. They refer to themselves as the "Young Money" crew.
Brown, entering his third season, signed a six-year contract for $42.5 million at the beginning of training camp. Wallace, unless he signs a long-term deal with the team before the regular season begins, will play this season for $2.7 million.
It remains to be seen if the dynamic within the receiving corps changes, but Sanders doesn't think it will because of the leadership Wallace exhibited in the past.
"It's a really good thing that he's coming back," Sanders said. "We're all looking forward to that. Mike takes the top off the defense so guys like me and Antonio and Jerricho can get open underneath. We're happy to hear he's coming back. We can't wait for his arrival.
"He's definitely helped me out a lot. I think we all helped each other. We created this Young Money group so we can stay as a receiving corps. Sometimes, as receivers, we can be selfish, so he created that, which brought us closer. He just taught us about the camaraderie of the wide-receiver position. And his speed and how he runs definitely helps me out."
Without Wallace, Sanders and the other receivers have benefited from more repetitions in camp. Sanders learned the outside X position, but he will return to the slot when Wallace returns. Sanders has greatly expanded knowledge of the offense because of Wallace's absence.
That could pay dividends if there is an injury or an unforeseen development. But, like the rest of his teammates, Sanders will welcome Wallace back with open arms.
"I got an opportunity to capitalize on him not being here," Sanders said. "It's been good for me, game chemistry with Ben, just catching footballs with the first-team offense, something that will hopefully pay off when the game begins.
"Mike will definitely be welcome. We're all waiting on him. He brings in his personality, that light demeanor, never too serious, that joking manner that sometimes we as athletes forget that this is a game we play. He has world-class speed, something you can't coach. He comes in, takes the tops off defense and gives us big-time plays."
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Staff writer Ed Bouchette contributed to this story. Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published August 23, 2012 4:00 AM