PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 14: Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates with teammates Emmanuel Sanders #88 and Brandon London #15 after scoring on a 64 yard touchdown pass of the Detroit Lions during the preseason game on August 14 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
During the Hines Ward Era in Pittsburgh, the torch was passed from Charles Johnson to Plaxico Burress to Antwaan Randle El to Cedrick Wilson to Santonio Holmes, and finally, the most recent, holdout Mike Wallace.
In the event Wallace doesn't sign his restricted free agency tender or a long-term contract extension, Sanders will be the next in that line. And if history holds up, Sanders should be prepared, because none of those former split ends received contract extensions from the Steelers.
It would give the Steelers the first two-receiver change-over from the previous season (likely Sanders and WR Antonio Brown) in quite some time. Not that Sanders is looking to make history, but he is looking to make an impact after an injury and tragedy-filled 2011 season.
As Post-Gazette reporter Ed Bouchette wrote Friday, it is Wallace, and not his agent, Bus Cook, who made the decision to hold out (the Steelers have suspended contract negotiations with Wallace until he reports to camp), so it is Sanders who's making the decision to grab the opportunity to be on the field.
As a rookie in 2010, it was Sanders, and not fellow rookie Brown, who was getting looks. He had 22 catches in the regular season, and had two already in Super Bowl XLV before a foot injury took him out of the game.
That injury lingered over much of training camp, and a knee injury eventually sidelined him for a few more games as Brown began emerging as the team's future star.
The death of his mother at the end of October caused him to miss some more time.
By the end of the year, Sanders caught 22 passes in 11 games, while Brown punched a ticket to the Pro Bowl with 69 catches and 1,108 yards. Sanders doesn't need to look within his own team for motivation, though. He's shown the talent playing both the flanker and split end positions, to succeed in the NFL, and in Wallace's absence, he'll have his chance to put everything together in his third year.