By James Walker» NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South
A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.
Last offseason, a surprise rookie from Ole Miss flashed tremendous speed and reliable hands during Pittsburgh Steelers' practice.
Mike Wallace had 39 catches for 756 yards and six touchdowns during his rookie season.Several months later, third-round pick Mike Wallace introduced himself to the rest of the NFL with a standout season, recording 39 receptions for 756 yards and six touchdowns.
This year, Wallace has been arguably the best receiver for the Steelers during practices with Hines Ward coaching from the sidelines. Wallace routinely makes plays now that he's getting more opportunities with the first-team offense. With Santonio Holmes traded to the New York Jets, it will be important for Pittsburgh's second-year standout to make the jump from a backup receiver to a starter.
Wallace owes a lot of his quick development to Ward, who remains in his ear during practices. Like Plaxico Burress and Holmes in the past, Ward knows how important it is to have two productive receivers in Pittsburgh’s offense.
"Anything I do, he's watching," Wallace said of Ward this week. "So it's kind of hard to be perfect with Hines out here."
Wallace continues to work on his routes; route-running was the knock on him coming out of college. Pittsburgh utilized Wallace's strengths last year by making him a deep threat as the third receiver. But this season Wallace must be more polished running short and intermediate routes as a starter.
Timing also is something to watch in training camp. Wallace and the receivers are working with Ben Roethlisberger, who has a conditional six-game suspension, as well as Byron Leftwich on the first team this spring. Dennis Dixon also is expected to get a chance to work with the starters at some point, as the team figures out how to divide snaps.
"They're all good quarterbacks, so it doesn't really matter to me," Wallace said. "Anyone of them lines up, I'll be ready to go."
Wallace is confident that he's ready to step into the starting role. Based on last season and his steady growth this offseason, there's no reason for the Steelers to think otherwise.
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