Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace might be absent for the start of training camp, but one wide receiver that is present, and more importantly healthy, is Emmanuel Sanders.
Sanders, who missed a good portion on training camp and the preseason last year due to surgeries on each of his feet, will now fill in as the “X” receiver in the Steelers offense until Wallace decides he wants to sign his tender and get into camp. The extra reps will certainly due the SMU product good. Last year it was Antonio Brown that received the extra reps early on in training camp as Hines Ward started off training camp on the Active PUP list and Sanders needed another procedure done to promote healing in one of his feet. We saw how well it worked at for Brown last season and it figures to do the same now for Sanders, who is considered one of the best route runners on the team when healthy.
Head coach Mike Tomlin said back in March at the NFL owners meetings that Sanders ability to stay healthy for a long period of time was a concern to him. At that time Sanders was also coming off of yet another foot surgery. “You can\’t anticipate it\’s going to stop,” Tomlin said of Sanders\’ injuries.
Sanders said on Wednesday that his foot injuries are behind him now and that he is ready to go for training camp. “This year I am finally feeling good,” said Sanders. “I feel like the old Emmanuel. I don\’t have to worry about is the foot going to hold up when I cut on certain routes. I am feeling good, I feel healthy and I am looking forward to it.”
Tomlin is looking forward to as well with Wallace currently not in the picture. When asked if Sanders has a chance to win Wallace\’s spot the longer he stays away, Tomlin would only say, “I\’m not going to get into the hypotheticals. What I\’m going to do is work with Emmanuel Sanders because he\’s here, and be excited about doing it.”
With Ward now retired, Sanders is currently the best blocking wide receiver that the Steelers have. Ideally they would like to use him in the slot because of that blocking ability, but in the mean time he will need to get his reps where he can. His health alone is solid leverage for the Steelers to use in their game of hardball with Wallace, as they also made sure to retain veteran Jerricho Cotchery this offseason as well.
So while many will want to focus in right now on Wallace, who isn\’t in camp, I suggest you do like Tomlin suggest and pay attention instead to Sanders, who is in camp. The Wallace situation will work itself eventually, so watching Sanders hopefully make the same jump that Brown made last season is where my focus will be.