View Full Version : NFL 2010 season preview: Difference maker Mike Wallace

09-10-2010, 12:16 AM
NFL 2010 season preview: Difference maker Mike Wallace

The second-year receiver from Ole Miss has not slowed down after his fast-track rookie year, and top NFL cornerbacks are likely to pay the price for it
Friday, September 10, 2010
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Mike Wallace led all rookies in receiving yards in 2009 and certainly made it easier for the trade of Santonio Holmes.

It is not true that Mike Wallace can turn off a light switch and be in bed before the room gets dark. But he is fast, maybe the fastest starting receiver in Steelers history, certainly since Frank Lewis.

He came into the National Football League fast, catching six touchdowns, averaging a team-high 19.4 yards per catch and leading all AFC rookies in receiving yards (756) last season.

Wallace was the second-fastest receiver in the 2009 draft, behind Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey, after averaging a time of 4.31 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. And he used that speed to race past Limas Sweed as the No. 3 receiver on the depth chart and burst past unsuspecting cornerbacks for big plays.

Eight of his 39 catches were 33 yards or longer, and four of his six touchdowns were 40 yards or longer. Now, with the departure of Santonio Holmes, he is hoping to continue his rapid ascent as the starting split end opposite veteran Hines Ward in the Steelers' offense.

"That's why I play the game -- to get the best stuff, to go to the Super Bowl and, hopefully, go to the Pro Bowl," said Wallace, a third-round draft choice from Mississippi. "I don't play just to play. I don't play just to be around here. I play to be the best. And the only way to be one of the best is if I'm in the Pro Bowl."

No Steelers receiver has gone to the Pro Bowl since 2004 when Ward, the team's all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards, was selected for the fourth time. Before Ward, the last Steelers receiver to go to the Pro Bowl was Yancey Thigpen in 1997.

Neither gaining recognition nor switching positions is easy. Wallace was used primarily as the No. 3 receiver as a rookie, which means he usually lined against the other team's nickel back. Basically, his routes were simple: Just outrun the other guy.

This year, he will be used solely on the outside at split end, the position formerly manned by Santonio Holmes. That means he will likely be going against the other team's top cornerback.

"A lot of teams don't have three legitimate cornerbacks, so he'd just outrun the other guy," said Ward, who enters his 13th NFL season and will line up with a new starting split end for the fifth time in the past nine years. "Now, he's put in there against legitimate corners. It will be a challenge."

That's fine with Wallace.

"That's what I want," said the former Ole Miss receiver who is second in all-purpose career yards and third in career touchdown catches in school history. "I don't want to keep playing against the second and third guys. I want the best y'all have. Give me your best shot, and I'm going to give you all mine."

Still, there have been some missteps along the way.

In the second preseason game against the New York Giants, Wallace easily got behind the secondary and ran under a 68-yard touchdown heave from Byron Leftwich -- one of the few times he did not have to slow down to wait for the ball.

But, because he is learning a new position, he also made enough assignment mistakes against the Giants to offset his touchdown catch. And upset the coaches.

Part of that is because Wallace is trying to use his speed more than necessary, especially on routes where he is trying to get in and out of his breaks. The Steelers want Wallace to play with more control when running shorter routes.

"We know he has a V-8 engine, but you can't go from first to fifth the whole time," Ward said. "You got to keep it in third or fourth where you do have another gear.

"There's no way you can run at top speed and stop on a dime and get in and out of breaks. You can't do it. Your body can't go from a straight line, stop and come back. Your knees or something are going to break.

"Last year, we just told him to run fast and me and [Holmes] will take care of the other stuff. A lot of times, he just ran straight past guys. Now, you can't be a one-trick pony, as Mike Tomlin likes to say. You can't be just fast. You got to be in control and run routes. Once he does that, he'll be fine."

Leftwich, who did not play with Wallace last season, thinks he is already there.

"There are a lot of fast guys in the world that can't get open the way Mike gets open," Leftwich said.

"That's the thing. He's a fast football player. He's just not just a fast guy trying to play football; he's a football player who understands what he needs to do to get open. He does those things, and when he does those things the speed he's got allows him to get open."

I don't play just to play. I don't play just to be around here. I play to be the best.

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