In Wallace's Old Spot ...

Emmanuel Sanders wants one improvement above all else. Read on for the answer ...

LATROBE – After Mike Wallace turned down the last long-term contract available under the salary cap as it's currently constituted, the Steelers turned around and gave it to Antonio Brown.

But the man they'll turn to if Wallace continues his obstinate stance against a $2.742 million salary is the guy with the new haircut and buffed up body, the guy who looks like he should be hanging out with coverage linebackers and in-the-box safeties, the guy who's been here in another form: that of a lightweight, injury-prone wide receiver.

For those who haven't been able to recognize him without the No. 88 jersey on his back, the guy's name is Emmanuel Sanders.

Yeah, that guy.

"Yeah, I gained about 10 pounds of good weight," said the muscled-up Sanders. "I feel good. I feel really good. The whole offseason I primarily focused on getting stronger and more flexible. Most people get tight but I continued to stay flexible and stretch every day. Hopefully it'll end up being a good thing for me."

It would then be a good thing for the Steelers, who have no choice but to prepare as if Wallace will hold out all season. Sanders would step into that breach opposite Antonio Brown.

"I want to have a thousand-yard season," Sanders said. "That's what it takes to be the best and I always want to be the best. And I want to have more than the two touchdowns I've had in the last two years. I want to beat that number, hopefully beat that number by a lot. But those are just little goals. The main goal is those 16 games. I know if I'm healthy and I go 16 games then I'll accomplish all my goals."

Staying healthy has been a problem for Sanders, who left Super Bowl 45 as a rookie with a foot injury, and then missed five games last season with knee and foot injuries. He's flashed at times, catching 50 regular-season and 13 post-season passes for a total of 836 yards (13.3 avg.). But those are just sub-package numbers. Sanders wants to take his game to the next level, so he turned up his program.

"I ate more, ate healthier, and I train hard," he said. "I'm trying to understand my body more and what it can take, what it can't take, what will keep me on the field 16 games, hopefully 20."

Right now Sanders is receiving the full load of starting reps, and the offense has performed well. On Friday, 23 of the 26 passes were caught.

On Saturday, with the pads on and the intensity heightened, Sanders and cornerback Ike Taylor put on a fierce showing that resulted in back-and-forth individual wins. It's been a solid start under the new coordinator.

"I like this offense a lot," Sanders said. "It's all based off route conceptions. I feel like it's the strength of my game, because in this offense you've got to be a route runner. You've got to understand how to run routes and get open, and that's the strength of my game: route running. So I like it. I like it a lot."

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