No Wallace? No Problem for Steelers' Offense

Steelers' offense got off to quick start in minicamp even without its leading receiver as Jerricho Cotchery showed his value. Jim Wexell explains.

PITTSBURGH – It was the first official team scrimmage of the first official minicamp practice and Ben Roethlisberger was looking sharp and decisive.

He may have botched the terminology once or twice ("I actually called a play I thought was a play but it's actually a formation now," he later admitted) but few watching from the sideline could tell.

And with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders entering their third seasons, Roethlisberger's sharpness and decisiveness were matched by his wide receivers'. So Steelers coach Mike Tomlin set the play clock under a minute, gave the offense a timeout, and said "sick 'em."

Two quick completions were followed by a back-shoulder bullet to Sanders that went for 25 yards and set up the offense with a first down inside the 10. But the next play – a great catch by Sanders on a fade – was ruled out of bounds by official (and strength coach) Garrett Giemont.

A draw was followed by an Ike Taylor pass breakup on a short, quick slant to Sanders, and Roethlisberger faced fourth-and-goal from the 3. He took the snap and looked for one of his premier wideouts. They were covered, so Roethlisberger hesitated for the first time on the drive. He needed his third guy, and after Jerricho Cotchery made a hard cut in the end zone to separate from Cortez Allen, Roethlisberger threw it low and away and the veteran dove to make the catch for a touchdown.

It was a winning drive even for a June day, and one made all the more difficult without last season's leading receiver, Mike Wallace, who is holding out in the hope of forcing the Steelers into a long-term agreement.

Roethlisberger proved he could beat the reigning No. 1 defense in June, but can he win in 2012 with the receiving corps he has at his minicamp disposal?

"Absolutely," he said. "Absolutely."

And then he paused.

"Still want Mike, though," Roethlisberger said.

Every quarterback wants speed on his flanks, but Wallace may not have helped as much on fourth down, in tight red-zone quarters, as Cotchery did yesterday.

The 9th-year veteran who will turn 30 on Saturday is the wily receiver who from 2006 through 2009 averaged 73 catches, 943 yards, and 4 touchdowns per season for the New York Jets.

Cotchery was limited in 2010 by injuries and let go in 2011 because of Santonio Holmes. Cotchery caught on late with the Steelers last year, then battled through minor injuries, and finished with 16 catches for 237 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Of course, the Steelers weren't swayed by the low numbers. They wanted him and he knew it, so he re-signed with the team even though the top three WR spots were filled – on paper – by budding, young stars.

"It started with the locker room," Cotchery said of feeling wanted by the Steelers. "But it went all the way around, really. The organization said that in the exit meetings. They said ‘I want you to come back. We were happy with you this year and we want to have you back.'

"The guys around here were saying the same thing. Not being around here that long, it's a blessing to have guys saying ‘We want you to come back.'"

That happened publicly around mid-season when a reporter was overheard asking Cotchery about some rumored trade interest from his old team. Wallace heard the question and began shouting it to the nearby shuffleboard players. Soon Roethlisberger was leading a chorus of "Jets suck! Jets suck!"

"That love continued," Cotchery said. "The guys always made me feel I was a part of the team from Day One and it's been the same thing throughout this offseason."

In turn, Cotchery is feeling healthier than he's been in a couple of years, and he even flashed some deep speed a few plays after his red-zone touchdown had gotten minicamp off and running for the offense.

"I never lost my confidence, but the important thing is the organization felt like I had something to offer," Cotchery said. "They didn't worry about anybody else, what outside sources were saying. They felt I had a lot to offer this team and I feel the same way. That's why I was able to come back and we were able to get something done."


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