The Mike Wallace saga took on a new twist, relatively speaking, on Tuesday when Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette wrote that sources told him that Wallace will report this weekend, likely after the team returns from the Bills game on Saturday. Kickoff is at 7pm for that one.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that he shows up, signs that 1 yr tender and starts practicing immediately. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking but hey, it’s halfway through preseason so let’s just hope for the best right? So if all that falls into place, there’s no reason to think that Wallace won’t be on the field in Denver on Sept 9th. Now whether or not you think he should be there may be a different story.
Many in the Steeler Nation and the media as well have criticized Wallace extensively for this holdout, and with good reason. Missing an entire offseason is bad enough but when you have a new offense being installed and a new coordinator, it makes it even more important to be there. That’s water under the bridge now, no use looking back. What the Steelers will do now is move forward with him the minute he reports, getting him ready with the new plays and starting to work with Ben Roethlisberger.
So what’s going to stop #17 from being on the field? Mike Tomlin would be the only one most likely. Todd Haley is excited to see him report as are Wallace’s teammates, so unless Tomlin wants to prove a point by sitting Wallace down in the opener, he’ll be there. Every coach has a doghouse, whether they’ll admit it or not. The Steelers head coach says he doesn’t have one, that he prefers to deal with things personally, head on, and then move on. He’s been clearly unhappy with Wallace from the start with this holdout and virtually answers no questions about him other than to say, “we’ll see when he gets here” type of responses. Perhaps Tomlin will try and send a message to Wallace, perhaps not but baring that situation we can
expect Wallace to be active in week 1.
Other things such as “will he be in football shape” and “what about the timing with Ben Roethlisberger”, “can he learn the new playbook?” are all valid questions too. The first one is the least of any concern quite honestly. If you’re working out with Tom Shaw, world renown sports trainer, he will see to it that you’re in the best shape of your life. Ike Taylor, Tom Brady, and others train with Shaw every offseason and you’ve seen how in shape Ike Taylor is. Wallace will be ready in that respect. Football shape will come in time, perhaps he comes out here and there in the first few weeks till he gets his sea legs back but that won’t stop him completely that’s for certain. Once you get hit a few times you get acclimated very quickly to what life on the field is about again each year.
The question of the new playbook isn’t that big of a deal either. He can get the basics down in the 2 weeks remaining before the season starts. Experienced players know what it’s like to learn a huge playbook and Wallace’s deep routes aren’t going to change all that much. His forte is going deep and outrunning everybody, the rest is just learning the terminology which again, is important but not insurmountable.
The only real concern will be the timing. That can only come with reps on the field both in practice and game situations. Ike Taylor can provide all the blanket coverage you need to simulate game situations and Ben is perfectly capable heaving the football 50 yds down field for Wallace to go after. If he does show up and is able to play in the final preseason game, that will also help. We can and should expect there to be some mishaps in the first few weeks though once the season starts, it’s just par for the course. He’s going to outrun some passes, or undercut a route, or Ben will toss it just out of his reach, but such is life. It’s not like Wallace and Roethlisberger are strangers on the field, 3 years of playing together counts for a lot and Ben will find ways to get Wallace the ball whenever possible. We’ll just have to be prepared for some 2nd or 3rd and 10 situations for the time being.
Finally, Wallace isn’t the only receiver the Steelers have either. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are both healthy and have all the offseason time in with Big Ben and the new offense. He won’t be afraid to go to either one of them in any type of pass play situation. The benefit of Wallace being back is that he’s sure to draw the double coverage the majority of the time, giving more opportunities for Brown and Sanders to capitalize on.
Steeler fans, and sports fans in general are quick to forgive when a player performs on the field. The coaches know what type of talent Wallace is and they’ll do whatever is necessary to bring him up to speed as quickly as possible. Maybe we as fans will still hold a grudge for awhile with Wallace, or maybe we’ll table it until the season is over and then we can start complaining all over again about how much he’s worth or not worth.
The whole new long term contract thing, well that’s a different story.