PITTSBURGH - Mike Wallace had better be a quick study.
With Wallace having ended his month-long holdout in a contract dispute Tuesday, the Steelers decided to go with just four wide receivers on their 53-man roster to open the 2012 season.
The Steelers released on Friday placed rookie linebacker Sean Spence on the Reserve/Injured list and released 21 other players, including wide receivers Tyler Beiler, Toney Clemons, David Gilreath, Marquis Maze and Derrick Williams, leaving only Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery on the active roster.
Though Friday was a scheduled day off for the players following Thursday’s 17-16 victory over the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field in the preseason finale, Wallace spent the day with wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery studying new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s offense.
With only four receivers on the 53-man roster, the Steelers are counting on Wallace to be ready to play when they open the regular season Sept. 9 at Denver.
“I have to,” said Wallace of his extra study sessions. “I missed a lot of time, so I need to catch up. I’ve been studying a lot. But I still need to be on top of my game. I don’t want people to be able to have much to say, so I need to be ready.”
Wallace will return to practice on Monday for the first time.
Rookie offensive lineman David DeCastro also has a spot on the 53-man roster - at least for now. The Steelers are expected to place DeCastro, who had surgery to repair a torn MCL and dislocated knee cap on Wednesday, on Injured Reserve, with the intention of using the new exemption approved by the NFLPA Thursday that will allow him to be activated after eight weeks.
But for a player to be eligible for that designation, he must be on the initial 53-man roster.
The news wasn’t as good for rookie linebacker Spence, who suffered a torn ACL Thursday night against the Panthers. Spence was placed on the Reserve/Injured List, ending the season for the team’s third-round pick.
In addition to the wide receivers, also released were veteran offensive line Trai Essex, who opened training camp as the team’s starting left tackle, and punter Jeremy Kapinos.
Essex has played in 76 career games for the Steelers, making 28 starts, while Kapinos has been the team’s punter for most of the past two seasons.
Essex could be re-signed after clearing waivers when DeCastro is placed on IR, though the team is also short at inside linebacker with Spence lost for the season and veteran backup Stevenson Sylvester out with a sprained knee.
The Steelers also kept veteran quarterback Charlie Batch over first-year player Jerrod Johnson. Batch started and played the entire first half against the Panthers, completing 11 of 14 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown, while Johnson played the entire second half, completing 7 of 10 passes for 78 yards and a score.
“This has been one of the most competitive camps,” said the 37-year-old Batch, who will be the third quarterback behind Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich. “Everybody was out there pushing each other and making each other better. Any time you go down to the final day and you still have a tough decision to make, it’s hats off to everybody.”
The other players released include defensive backs Damon Cromartie-Smith, Terrence Frederick and Josh Victorian, linebackers Brandon Hicks and Marshall Mcfadden, defensive linemen Corbin Bryant, Ike Igbinosun and Jake Stoller, running back DuJuan Harris, and offensive linemen Ryan Lee, John Malecki and Chris Scott.
(Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter).