Mike Wallace’s corner locker at the Steelers’ facility sat quietly, as neat as it has throughout training camp.
Shoes were lined up methodically along the bottom, jerseys and other clothing hung on a rod, a cap sat on the top shelf and the team helmet hung on its customary hook.
Many of Mike Wallace’s belongings. Just no Mike Wallace.
Despite reports and heavy speculation the holdout receiver would report to the Steelers (No. 7 in AP Pro32) yesterday, Wallace was not there.
High school teammate and Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis said Wallace would arrive today, however. So, the drama continues to build. Officially, Wallace, coach Mike Tomlin and the organization aren’t talking, but teammates openly discussed the pending arrival.
Rookie guard David DeCastro was at the facility, took part in meetings and hung with teammates. But the Steelers’ first-round pick was in crutches after sustaining a potentially severe knee injury during Saturday’s preseason game. He will undergo surgery tomorrow.
Pittsburgh concludes the preseason by hosting Carolina Thursday.
Lewis and cornerback Ike Taylor are arguably Wallace’s closest friends on the team, and the two have openly embraced playfully acting as conduits for speculation concerning Wallace’s status and whereabouts.
After a media member requested Lewis call Wallace yesterday, Lewis and Taylor passed Lewis’ cell phone back and forth during a conversation. Taylor played coy.
“Just to have him back, whenever he comes, it’s going to be a plus,” Taylor said. “We miss him, we miss the attitude, we miss the way he clowns, we just miss Mike in general. So, when he gets back, we’re going to embrace him.”
Wallace had 2,450 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns the past two seasons. A restricted free agent, he would need to sign a one-year tender of approximately $2.7 million to report to the team. The Steelers suspended negotiations with Wallace on a long-term contract when he was a no-show on the first day of training camp. The organization also has a policy of not conducting contract negotiations during the regular season, meaning the clock is ticking if Wallace wants a long-term deal — though he could be content to test the open market as an unrestricted free agent after this season.
With Wallace not around, the Steelers gave an extension to their other starting receiver, Antonio Brown, on the third day of training camp.
“I’m excited for my guy to come in,” Brown said, “get back on the same page and get working together toward something that’s special.”
Wallace has averaged 18.7 yards per reception in his career and has had a touchdown reception of at least 56 yards each season he has played.
“He adds another dimension to the field,” Brown said. “A player like Mike is so explosive and gets so many things done. You need a guy like that on your team. It’s amazing when you can get him lined up on the other side and you know what he is capable of. It’s a great thing to have him here.”
At least it will be at some point.
No matter when Wallace reports this week, he cannot participate in a team practice until next week, as per the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
DeCastro, meanwhile, did not practice yesterday, but did say he was in good spirits as he left the team facility in a knee brace. Two days after classifying DeCastro’s injury as “potentially severe,” Tomlin would not elaborate other than to say the team would update his status after the surgery tomorrow.
“The guy is injured, so you feel sorry for him on a personal level,” Tomlin said. “Professionally, we understand that this is as much a part of the game as blocking and tackling. So, we move on.”
Like all NFL teams, the Steelers were required to trim their roster to 75 yesterday. They will cut it down to the regular-season limit of 53 on Friday. A decision on the severity of DeCastro’s injury — and how it affects the roster — must be made within 48 hours of the surgery. Ramon Foster, in the interim, moves into DeCastro’s starting spot at right guard. Foster has 26 starts at guard.
“It’s unfortunate that David got injured, but I’m the next man up,” Foster said. “It’s one of those things I’ve grown used to doing, and it’s just time for the next man up to do the best job he can.”