The Mike Wallace watch by the Steelers is down now to days, if not hours. James Harrison is still watching the calendar, hoping there are enough weeks left for him to be ready for the season opener.
The Steelers were back on the South Side on Tuesday, another summer in Latrobe over, but Wallace — the holdout wide receiver — wasn’t with them yet. But multiple players who are talking with Wallace said that’s about to change.
The start of the season is also the deadline for the Steelers to work out a long-term contract with Wallace, who skipped training camp out of frustration in not getting a new deal. With time running out, Wallace is expected to sign his $2.742 million tender and get in a few practices before the Aug. 30 preseason game against Carolina.
Then, he would have a full week of work before the Steelers travel to Denver on Sept. 9 to start the new season in the same place they ended last season.
“We don’t know the exact date, but we’re looking forward to getting him back in and looking forward to him making those big-time plays he’s capable of making,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “We’re all looking forward to it and the guys he’s close to on the team have been talking to him, and he’s coming back soon.”
Ike Taylor, one of Wallace’s closest friends on the team, said he’s already planning a welcome-back dinner at a South Side restaurant — and, he joked, he plans to tweet a picture of the tab.
“I am on Mike time,” Taylor said. “Whenever he gets here, I’ll be ready for him and I am sure the whole team is ready for him.”
The Steelers did sign a wide receiver to a pricey contract during camp, but it wasn’t Wallace. Two days after Wallace declined to report July 25, Antonio Brown probably benefitted from Wallace’s absence by signing a $42.5 million contract.
Left tackle Max Starks, who practiced with the starters for the first time since tearing an ACL during the Denver playoff loss, said everyone is excited about Wallace’s pending return.
Wallace, despite slumping the second half of last season, is a take-the-top-off-the-defense receiver who diverts eyes and commands attention whenever he is on the field.
“The one thing that speed does is it makes you plan extra. He is an X factor,” Starks said. “Not only is he fast, he’s a game changer. He’s that variable that you must account for. If you overlook it or try to focus on somebody else, he’ll torch you.”
Coach Mike Tomlin still isn’t saying how much time Wallace needs to get ready for a season that isn’t far away.
“Like I said the day we reported to training camp, I will see him when he arrives,” Tomlin said.
Harrison, chosen as a Pro Bowl starter the last five seasons, hasn’t gone through a contact practice since last season as he recovers from a left knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery last week. He came in Tuesday for treatment and to work out, but did nothing else team-related.
Harrison has been on the physically unable to perform list with a left knee injury since training camp started July 25. He tried doing conditioning work shortly after camp began but, in his words, “the knee blew up. I couldn’t let it go any longer.”
Harrison believes he has enough time to play against Denver, if only because he knows Dick LeBeau’s defense so well that he doesn’t need much time.
“I might need a little prep, we got a couple of new things (on defense), but other than that I think I’ll be all right,” Harrison said. “You’ve got to get back in timing with the other guys and everything else, and a few days of practice would help.”
Starting next week, a few days are the only days the Steelers will have.