Mike Wallace a one-trick pony no longer
By John Harris
Published: Monday, January 3, 2011
CLEVELAND -- The transformation is complete. Mike Wallace has become the Steelers' new Santonio Holmes.
Coach Mike Tomlin's nickname for Wallace -- One Trick, as in One-Trick Pony -- should no longer apply. Wallace is now more than a fast receiver who loves catching the deep ball.
Not that he doesn't still excel at that.
And, sure, Wallace has some work to do to become a knockout blocker, but the Steelers pay him to catch the ball. Give him time. He's made spectacular development in his second season.
Wallace made another big play early in Sunday's 41-9 destruction of the Cleveland Browns that clinched the AFC North for the Steelers.
The coaching staff didn't waste time getting Wallace the ball after safety Troy Polamalu intercepted Browns quarterback Colt McCoy. Wallace blew past a surprised Cleveland secondary and snared a 56-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger on the Steelers' first play from scrimmage.
Roethlisberger had every intention of throwing long to Wallace to open the game. The play was a point of emphasis during practice.
"Teams have been really trying to take me away from the deep ball,'' Wallace said. "Since last week we knew we were going to run that play. I was just hoping a safety came down so I could get over top of it. Ben threw a perfect ball.''
Catching the deep ball has been Wallace's calling card. He averaged a team-high 21.0 yards per catch during the regular season.
Wallace and Roethlisberger established a franchise record with eight career touchdowns passes of 40 yards or more. Six have come this season.
"It's just another stepping stone for us. Another building block for me and Ben,'' Wallace said. "Hopefully we can break some more records.''
The question mark, or at least the perception surrounding Wallace's game, was his willingness to sacrifice his body and make tough catches across the middle that had been Holmes' specialty.
According to Wallace, he was always more than willing to make those catches. He said it came down to the coaching staff trusting him in a role that formerly belonged to Holmes.
"All I ran was bombs," Wallace said. "Now I'm getting more opportunities.''
In recent weeks, Wallace's ability to diversify his game has made him nearly impossible to stop.
Since being held to three receptions for 33 yards against Buffalo, Wallace has produced three 100-yard games with no fewer than 76 yards in any of his final five regular-season games.
Less than a minute into yesterday's contest, Wallace sprinted into the secondary to make an uncontested reception. A bevy of Cleveland defensive backs, who were too slow to recover, couldn't lay a hand on him.
"Mike is so fast that I can just throw it out there, and he can do the rest for me,'' Roethlisberger said.
On the Steelers' second possession, Wallace caught a short slant and galloped 41 yards. The play set up Rashard Mendenhall's 1-yard touchdown run and a 14-0 lead.
The play showcased Wallace's maturation within the offense. The slant worked because Wallace and Roethlisberger were on the same page and read the defense perfectly.
"It was a hot read,'' said Wallace, who finished with three catches for 105 yards. "We had a screen on one side and a slant on the other side. Coach always tells me they need some yards after catch from me. I'm trying to get touchdowns the fastest way I can.''
In the Steelers' 27-3 win over Carolina on Dec. 23, Wallace caught a 43-yard slant pass for a touchdown. He ran the route as smoothly as Holmes ever did, and he finished it off with a flourish that the explosive Holmes couldn't match.
The slant pass is new for Wallace, who has expanded his game weekly.
Ever so quietly, Wallace, who has a team-high 10 touchdown catches, has replaced veteran Hines Ward as the No. 1 option in the passing game.
Wallace has 60 receptions to Ward's 59, but he has 502 more receiving yards than Ward.
Wallace is no longer a hit-or-miss receiver. There were moments last season that if Wallace didn't go long and make a catch, he didn't have an impact on the game. That's no longer the case. He can impact the game even when Roethlisberger can't find him deep in the secondary.
Maybe Wallace's high level of play will convince Tomlin to coin him a new nickname.
- Steelers quarterback Roethlisberger likes the revamped offense
- Steelers’ Polamalu trim, fit as he arrives for OTAs
- Coach Tomlin, Steelers facing plenty of questions as OTAs start
- Steelers notebook: Less talk, more work is Tomlin’s theme
- Ex-Steelers QB Batch learns new form of 2-minute drill
- Steelers might be looking at a youth movement in 2013
- Steelers rookie moves on after PSU scandal
- Steelers ink fourth-round pick Thomas to 4-year deal
- Steelers hope they have ringer in running back Bell
- Steelers reach agreement with sixth-round pick Williams
- New Bengals linebacker Harrison: ‘I don’t hate the Steelers’
You must be signed in to add comments
To comment, click the Sign in or sign up at the very top of this page.