Starkey: Wallace a backup? Not really
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Herman Melville created a wonderful literary character named Bartleby the Scrivener, an office clerk who had a stock answer for every question — even when his boss asked him to complete an assignment.
“I'd prefer not to,” Bartleby would say.
Mike Wallace on Wednesday sounded a lot like ol' Bartleby. In fact, the allegedly demoted wide receiver must have set the NFL record for Answers Begun With The Same Phrase, as reporters circled his locker to ask about his “demotion.”
Wallace's stock answer wasn't “I'd prefer not to” — though some fans will tell you that would fit him perfectly — but rather, “Not really.”
• Is it strange not knowing if he'll play his usual role Sunday, in the wake of Mike Tomlin listing him as “co-starter” with Emmanuel Sanders, instead of as starter?
“Not really,” Wallace said. “You have to adjust. That's life.”
• Did any coach talk to him about the depth-chart adjustment?
• Does he have a feeling of “I'll show you?”
“Not really. I don't have to show nobody nothing. … You can ask any one of my teammates: I practice hard every single day.”
• When fans say he's not trying, does it make him angry?
“Not really. Nobody outside this locker room really matters.”
Now, before anyone turns that last statement into, “He just insulted the people who pay his salary,” let me say this: not really. Wallace, in context, simply was saying that no one outside the locker room could possibly know whether he is working hard enough.
His teammates insist he is.
“Mike always shows up to work,” said veteran receiver Jerricho Cotchery. “He never complains. He's prepared.”
Wallace's in-game effort has been unfairly questioned. Those criticizing him for failing to break up an interception on a deep ball in Cleveland, for example, have lost their minds.
Production is another matter. Tomlin was right Tuesday when he said Wallace had not been “producing in the manner in which he'd like to and we'd like him to.”
Still, I'll be stunned if the coach's message extends beyond perhaps keeping Wallace on the sideline for the first snap in Baltimore. Anything more would be a classic case of Tomlin cutting off his nose to spite his face, and he did enough of that last week trying to play tough guy with his butter-fingered running backs.
Messages are fine. Winning is paramount for a 6-5 team very much in danger of missing the playoffs.
The Steelers need Wallace at his very best. For whatever reason, he hasn't been consistently productive since the middle of the last season. You see bursts of brilliance — the 51-yard sprint against the Giants; the fabulous touchdown catch against the Chiefs — mixed with long stretches of invisibility.
Or, worse, negative plays. Like the dropped 52-yard pass in the playoff game at Denver, the momentum-crushing fumble two weeks ago against the Ravens and the inability to come down with an end-zone fade in the same game.
Wallace hasn't been good enough. Nobody could dispute that. Not even him, though he left space to read between the lines when asked why his production has fallen.
“A lot of reasons,” he said. “Not that I want to get into this or that.”
Clearly, Wallace wants more deep targets. That's his game, and it's missing. He had 22 catches of 40-plus yards his first three seasons. He has two this season. I'm also quite certain he saw what we all saw last weekend: Charlie Batch couldn't get him the ball down the field.
None of which excuses Wallace failing to capitalize on his few recent opportunities. He was as big a reason as any for the loss to Baltimore.
Any play in particular he feels he should have made in the past two games?
“Not really,” Wallace said. “Any one I didn't make.”
Storylines abounded Wednesday: Antonio Brown and Troy Polamalu were full participants at practice; Ben Roethlisberger was a limited participant; and Maurkice Pouncey was practicing at left guard.
Wallace is a big story, too. His season hasn't gone the way he envisioned, for sure, but there is plenty of time to salvage it — and if anybody asks whether the Steelers are a viable Super Bowl contender without the old Mike Wallace, well, you know the answer.
It ends with really.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Waivers granted for Garden Theater block development
- Pirates say goodbye to veteran leaders Burnett, Ramirez
- Steelers notebook: Starting DEs not leaving the field
- Review: In Edwidge Danticat’s lyrical ‘Untwine,’ a teen rebuilds her life
- State woos Kennametal with $1M in incentives to stay in Pa.
- Safety of credit cards up to banks
- South Fayette extends winning streak in dominating fashion vs. Steel Valley
- Review: Lauren Groff’s ‘Fates and Furies’ looks at paradoxes of marriage
- Serra Catholic soars to victory over Riverview on game-ending kick
- Cole working to become Penguins’ next Martin on defense
- Biden, Ryan facing tough decisions