PITTSBURGH â" Mike Wallace sat in his usual spot in the corner of the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room and decided it was time to hold court.
Hey, itâd been awhile for the leader of the self-proclaimed âYoung Money Family.â
The Pro Bowl wide receiver posed for the cameras alongside teammates Antonio Brown, Chris Rainey, Jerricho Cotchery and Ike Taylor while flashing a smile and cracking jokes, business as usual for one of the NFLâs fastest playmakers.
It was almost as if Wallaceâs lengthy holdout â" one that finally came to an end on Tuesday â" never happened. Maybe because thatâs the way Wallace prefers it.
âIâm not dwelling on the past,â Wallace said.
âI have no regrets.â
He also still doesnât have the long-term deal he covets.
Instead the 26-year-old restricted free agent will play under the one-year, $2.7 million tender offered by the Steelers and hope something lengthier gets worked out before the regular season begins next week. As a rule the Steelers (No. 7 in the APPro32) donât negotiate contracts during the season.
Wallace, who caught a career-high 72 passes for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns last season, remains optimistic an agreement can be reached sometime before Pittsburgh faces Denver on Sept. 9.
âThis is the team that drafted me and itâs where I want to stay,â Wallace said. âIâm not really worried about down the road. Iâm worried about playing football. ... That was business. Iâm not on that right now. Iâm here to play football and thatâs it.â
Even if Wallace wonât be able to actually practice until next week under the leagueâs collective bargaining agreement. Still, Wallace believes heâll be ready to face the Broncos even if it means cram sessions getting up to speed on new offensive coordinator Todd Haleyâs complex system.
âWe have two weeks to the game,â Wallace said. âIâve been working out. Iâve been really good conditioning. I donât think thatâs going to be a problem.â
Neither does quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who kept in contact with Wallace during the holdout. The two have developed into one of the NFLâs best deep-passing combinations over the last three years, with Roethlisbergerâs arm and Wallaceâs blazing speed giving the Steelers an ability to stretch the field few teams can match.
While Roethlisberger allows thereâs going to be a steep learning curve for Wallace, heâs eager to have Wallace back on the field.
âItâs kind of like your parents telling you you get a new car then it has to sit in the driveway because you donât have any insurance,â Roethlisberger said. âOnce you get that insurance, you get out and take it for a ride.â
Wallace spent a significant amount of time during his holdout working with trainers in Florida and refining his route-running looking to avoid another slump like the one he endured at the end of the 2011 season. He posted four 100-yard receiving games in the first seven weeks of the year but didnât top 82 yards in any of Pittsburghâs final nine games as defenses adjusted.
In his place, Antonio Brown developed into Roethlisbergerâs most trusted target and signed a six-year, $42 million extension early in camp while Wallace waited for the phone to ring.
Donât expect any sort of rivalry, however, between Brown and Wallace.
âA player like Mike is so explosive and gets so many things done,â Brown said. âYou need a guy like that on your team. Itâs amazing when you can get him lined up on the other side and you know what he is capable of. Itâs a great thing to have him here.â
Wallace declined to get specific about what he accomplished by holding out and said only âmy teammates need meâ when asked why he decided to end it without resolving his contract situation.
âMy teammates know what was going on,â Wallace said. âMy coaches know, I kept in contact with them. So as long as they know, I really donât care about anybody else.â
Though heâs had a copy of Haleyâs playbook for weeks, Wallace knows there will be a breaking-in process. He felt he got a few âmental repsâ watching his teammates go through drills in preparation for the preseason finale against Carolina on Thursday and huddled with receivers coach Scottie Montgomery when practice broke.
âIâm learning the plays,â he said. âHere I at least get to see it. At home I couldnât see it ... Iâll be back on Monday hopefully and Iâll be ready to roll.â
Notes: The Steelers activated linebackers James Harrison (knee) and Jason Worilds (wrist) from the physically unable to perform list on Tuesday and released RB Jason Ford, signed earlier in training camp ... Coach Mike Tomlin expects veteran quarterback Charlie Batch to get a majority of the playing time during Thursdayâs game against Carolina.