By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Mike Wallace said he’s been smiling since Monday night, and it’s no wonder since the first play during Pittsburgh Steelers practice Tuesday was a perfectly thrown bomb to him from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
No tip drill was needed, and there was no play to be made by a defensive back. Wallace caught the pass in stride and scored to open the 11-on-11 period. Wallace added that while the play wasn’t necessarily a statement, he certainly hoped it was a harbinger of things to come for the Steelers’ offense.
“Hopefully, that means we’ll be able to do that two Sundays from now,” Wallace said. “I know he was warming up his arm and wanted to see if he was loose or not, so I figured he was going to throw it out there. But he always threw me good passes, so I wasn’t worried about it.
“I wasn’t worried about his timing. I wasn’t worried about anything. I was just happy to see him out there. … I think we’ll probably stay with the same game plan, pretty much, but at the same time we’re getting a top-five guy back with us. He’s one of the best (quarterbacks) in the world, and he’s on our team.
So, now that we have him back, we can do a lot more things,” Wallace added. “And the offense is definitely going to go in another direction. It won’t change too much, but at the same time we’re going to throw the ball because we’ve got one of the best guys back. So, I’m excited about it.”
Roethlisberger appeared to be fired up during practice, but he was rather subdued during a brief interview session afterward.
“It felt good,” Roethlisberger said. “You’ll have to ask the receivers and other guys how it went, but I think it went pretty well. I haven’t watched the film yet, but my first impression was that it felt pretty good. … I just wanted to get one up there early for Mike, and he made a good catch.
“It normally takes a while to get going out there, but it felt pretty good. I think today went well, but we’ll see what tomorrow holds. When you’re out there throwing … like I said, I knew that my arm would be good. I knew it would be strong, and I knew it would feel good.
“But it’s just a matter of working with the guys, the timing, and that’s why we had a 30-minute individual (session). I told them I was sorry to make them run, but I wanted to work on my timing with them. That’s the key. Today was a good step, and I don’t think it’ll take as long as I thought.”
Roethlisberger noted that there didn’t appear to be any changes made to the playbook in the past month, but running back Rashard Mendenhall believed the Steelers’ offense would run a little more efficiently with Roethlisberger at quarterback and most likely be more balanced with the threat of a vertical passing game now available.
“I just think that in general, as an offense, the more balance you have the more productive you can be running or passing,” Mendenhall said. “Whatever’s working in the game, we’ll be able to do that.
“(But) I think they’ve been stacking up to defend our run, so … I’m sure they’re going to play things a little differently now with Ben in there. He definitely adds another dynamic to the offense, so we hope to take advantage of that.”
All the players were asked if Roethlisberger addressed the team prior to taking the field, and they all replied that nothing needed to be said.
“It’s just great having him back,” Steelers wideout Hines Ward said. “What’s in the past is in the past. He did his time. He did his suspension, and now we’re moving on. And we’re glad to have him back with our team. We’re 3-1 right now, so we’re going to hand it over to him and let him do his thing. (And) the guys are welcoming him back. We missed him.
“We just have to get him back in the rhythm of things, and it’s just like riding a bike. You have to work at it, and then we can get ready for Cleveland. Not having Ben out there, the season wasn’t over. We knew that, and we’re 50-some seconds from being 4-0. So, if you would have told us we could be 4-0 or even 3-1 without Ben, nobody gave us a chance.
“So, it’s a great credit to this team, the organization and the coaching staff,” Ward added. “We always believed in each other. We’re 3-1, but it’s definitely great to have Ben back on our side. I know he can’t wait to get back on the field to help us win ball games and keep this season going strong. And that’s why we’re all here working together.”
And with their franchise quarterback back from being exiled, there’s a lot of smiling going around in the Steelers’ organization.