Steelers vs. Broncos: What Can We Reasonably Expect from Mike Wallace in Week 1?

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 5, 2012

How many plays can a playmaker make when he hasn't made plays in months?
How many plays can a playmaker make when he hasn't made plays in months?Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE

On Sunday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the Denver Broncos in their season opener, and on the field for Pittsburgh will be wide receiver Mike Wallace.

Wallace, who missed all of minicamp, OTAs, training camp and the preseason while holding out in a contract dispute, practiced with the Steelers for the first time on Monday. While there's no doubt that Wallace will play on Sunday—and will likely start, as well—it's hard to entirely predict the capacity in which he'll be used.

In speaking with Adam Schein and Rich Gannon on SiriusXM's The Blitz on Tuesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said that Wallace will be held to a snap count against the Broncos, despite Wallace claiming that he's perfectly prepared in terms of knowledge of the playbook.

However, his mastery of the playbook aside, he hadn't worked with his teammates nor new offensive coordinator Todd Haley prior to Monday. Clearly, Tomlin has some concern that Wallace isn't as entirely up to speed as he claims he is if Tomlin is openly saying that he's willing to limit Wallace's time on the field.

Whether this is a calculated misdirection by Tomlin (which it very well could be) or an actual declaration of Wallace's anticipated playing time won't fully be known until the game has ended on Sunday night. But there are clues we can glean from this piece of information.

What is true is that Wallace simply has not had time to practice with the team, putting him clearly behind; but it is also true that Wallace is a playmaking receiver, one who simply has to get open anywhere on the field to be a scoring threat. It seems like the one truth balances out the other.

Another factor to consider is Antonio Brown. Wallace wasn't the only Steelers receiver to notch over 1,000 receiving yards last season—Brown, too, had a stellar 2011, and was rewarded with a contract extension as a result.

He's been with the team all summer, working through that new playbook. Whether Brown is a "better" receiver than Wallace matters little in this game—he's unquestionably more prepared, and that's something that could earn him more targets (thus costing Wallace some in return).

There's a chance that Wallace could serve as a decoy for certain plays, throwing coverage his way to uncover a receiver elsewhere. While this will likely come up a few times during the game, it doesn't make sense to think that this will be Wallace's only duty and that he'll be held to just one or two targets on the day.

The bottom line is this: The best receiver is the open one. And if Wallace is open, clearly Ben Roethlisberger is going to throw to him. Whether Wallace knows all the terminology, timing and routes doesn't matter considering he'll have but one week of practice to his name when he takes the field in Denver.

Yes, the limited knowledge he has when it comes to executing the playbook and being overall game-ready will thus necessitate limited playing time—that aforementioned "snap count"—but he's going to be anything but a non-factor in this game.

Eight receptions, 11 targets, 95 yards and two touchdowns? Maybe not, maybe that will have to wait. But will Wallace manage to get open when it counts? Will he still draw defensive attention that allows other receivers to make plays of their own? Will he still outrun anyone trying to catch him? Yes, to those ends, little has changed.