By Dale Grdnic
Friday Morning Practice
LATROBE, Pa. — When wideout Mike Wallace was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers with their second, third-round pick, they knew the speedster could be provide quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with another deep threat.
While Wallace has flashed that skill from the outset, he’s just starting to realize that being fast isn’t enough to get open in the NFL.
And once a receiver gets open, the plays not over for him.
“I’ve always had the speed and athleticism, but it was important for me to watch film and listen to the coaches about my route-running and things like that,” Wallace said. “And I also have to concentrate harder on making every catch. If it’s close to me, I want to catch it. I must have been open a lot in college, because it’s a lot tougher in the NFL. That’s for sure.”
Wallace had 38 catches and six touchdowns with nearly 19 yards per catch, but he was equally as dangerous on kickoff returns.
He ranked third in the SEC with nearly 25 yards per kickoff return and can change a game in a flash.
“I like to return kickoffs,” Wallace said. “I like to get out there and use my speed, and I’m finding out that there’s a lot to learn on special teams, too. So, I’m just taking it all in, but this is just the first week. I’ll get there. I want to help this team however I can, and I know special teams is part of it.”
From what Wallace has shown thus far, he could make the club via special teams — in particular, as a kickoff returner — but he could help them quite a bit as a wideout as well.
Isn’t That Special?
There was a light morning practice for the Pittsburgh Steelers Friday at Saint Vincent College with special teams as the emphasis.
It was the second such session this week, and there will be another one Saturday morning as well.
“We’re working on some different combinations for punt and kickoff returns, and we’ve got a lot of candidates,” Steelers special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky said. “You go through a lot of guys in the preseason, so this allows us to get reps for a lot of different guys. So, we have good depth and good talent back there, a lot of talent.”
Friday morning, specifically, Ligashesky and Co. put the club through some interesting punt-blocking drills. And without a football.
The first one had players diving on a mattress while a soccer ball is rolled past it. This works on timing.
Then, the soccer ball is used in the actual blocking, but basically is tossed in the air as a player runs past and knocks it down.
One would think that a Nerf football could be used since it’s the same size and shape, but in the drills Ligashesky believes timing and technique are key and not the shape of the ball.
One additional injury from the morning session. Wideout Brandon Williams suffered a back strain while stretching out in the punt-blocking drill. His status will be determined later tonight.
Under the Lights
The Steelers will hold their annual night practice at Latrobe High School’s Memorial Stadium.
The workout begins at 7 p.m. and will be preceded by a 15-minute autograph session at 6:45 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults more than 18 and $1 for children under 18 and seniors.
Children under 12 will be admitted for free if accompanied by a parent. Tickets will be sold at the gate beginning at 5 p.m. Proceeds benefit the Greater Latrobe School District Athletic Programs.
During this event, the Steelers’ six Super Bowl trophies will be on display.
Also, Zambelli will have a fireworks display with Jimmy B. and the Bone Tones and Billy Price performing prior to practice.
The Westmoreland County Food Bank will collect non-perishable food and household items.
Giant Eagle will match the donation on a per-pound basis.
Fans unable to attend the practice can still participate through the virtual food drive by visiting www.westmorelandfoodbank.org.