Mike Wallace can make early-season impact

August, 28, 2012
8/28/12
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Wide receiver Mike Wallace reported to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Tuesday after missing all of the offseason workouts and training camp practices. But Wallace should be on the field in the season opener at Denver because he can make an impact in the game.

I'm not suggesting you should draft Wallace in the second round of your Fantasy draft. I'm not even predicting he'll get over 50 yards receiving in Week 1.

What I do know about is Wallace's speed. He won't be as comfortable in Todd Haley's playbook as Antonio Brown because he walked into the Steelers facility 12 days before the regular season kicks off for Pittsburgh. Still, Wallace knows how to run one route, the one where he goes straight down the field and flies past defenders. As coach Mike Tomlin has put it, Wallace is "a threat to take the top off a defense at any time."

Others don't see Wallace making much of a difference early in the season. ESPN's Jerry Rice said on SportsCenter that there's "no way" Wallace will be ready to make an impact in the season opener after missing all that time. Rice even suggested it could take Wallace four to five games to do so.

Even Wallace would have to acknowledge that he would've improved his chances of making an impact if he showed up last week and got a few snaps in a preseason game with the starting offense. But he didn't want to play in a preseason game. He sees his big paychecks when the regular season begins. It's selfish, but it's within his rights as an unhappy restricted free agent.

It's just hard to agree with the assessment that there's "no way" Wallace will make an impact. He needs to get in football shape (some believe holdouts injure themselves when they try to push themselves early), and he needs to get acclimated to Haley's system. But Wallace is still catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger, the same quarterback who has helped him catch over 1,000 yards and average 18.5 yards per reception over the past two seasons.

There is hope that Wallace will be able to pick up Haley's offense quickly. He was given a playbook during his absence. And tight end Anthony Becht, who played under Haley in Kansas City in 2011, said he learned Haley's offense in seven days. "Just a matter of how smart the guy is," Becht wrote on Twitter.

Wallace doesn't need to be the Wallace from the first half of last season to make an impact against Denver. When he lines up, everyone in the Broncos' secondary will know where he is. The attention put on Wallace opens up the underneath routes for Brown and the running lanes for Isaac Redman. For the past four months, Wallace has served as a distraction to the Steelers. Now, it's time for him to serve as a distraction for opposing defenses.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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