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Wallace wants to add to repertoire

| Friday, Oct. 15, 2010

There are times when the player with the seemingly superhuman speed shows that he is indeed human.

Take when the Steelers' Mike Wallace checks the statistics of the wide receivers whose names were called before his in the 2009 NFL Draft. Or when his expressive face glows as he talks about his 3-month-old daughter, Maliha.

Both, in different ways, drive Wallace in his quest to become a complete player — as well as a more than capable replacement for Santonio Holmes.

Wallace appears to be on the right track in both endeavors, although fast track might be more apropos considering his blazing speed.

After averaging 19.6 yards per catch as one of the NFL's top rookie wideouts in 2009, Wallace has cemented his reputation as a premier deep threat.

He has caught passes of 52, 46 and 41 yards this season, and Wallace's average of 23.4 yards a catch is No. 1 among NFL starting wide receivers.

"I've never seen anybody that fast that guys know he's going deep and still can't cover him," Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said of Wallace.

What the Steelers want is for the 6-foot, 199-pounder to become as hard to cover on short and intermediate routes.

That desire is the genesis of the "one-trick pony" moniker with which Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has tagged Wallace.

Tomlin said he's joking when he calls Wallace that, but his words have had their intended effect.

"He doesn't know, but I get kind of mad because I don't like that," Wallace said. "I know it's all fun and games, but I have a lot of tricks. Unleash me, that's all. I have a long way to go, but at the same time, I work hard every day."

The nickname isn't all that motivates Wallace. He still stews — or at least simmers — about lasting well into the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft.

Wallace led the SEC in yards per reception as a senior while also setting an Ole Miss single-season record in all-purpose yards. He ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash at the 2009 NFL Combine (4.33 seconds) but still got passed over for 10 other wide receivers.

Among the wideouts taken ahead of Wallace are two, Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie, that will visit Heinz Field on Sunday with the Browns.

"I always take it to heart, all those guys that went before me," Wallace said. "I think I'm better than all of them pretty much. (Teams) were sleeping on me like I was playing in my jammies."

If using that perceived slight as fuel sounds familiar, it's indeed straight from the playbook of Wallace's mentor, Hines Ward.

Equally as powerful a motivator is the daughter that brings out Wallace's softer side.

Maliha was born during the early part of training camp, and Wallace got a chance to see her during the recent three-day weekend the Steelers enjoyed because of the bye.

Visiting with his daughter in New Orleans only reinforced to Wallace that he's now playing for more than just himself.

"I have somebody depending on me to take care of her," Wallace said. "I've got to be able to get her anything she wants."

To cash in big on his next contract, Wallace will have to become a more refined route runner as well as improve on reading defenses.

Barring injury, Wallace figures to do both.

"A lot of times, with him, he hasn't seen the coverage and doesn't understand and is just running fast," Ward said. "As you're running fast, you've got to gather information and run the route accordingly. It's kind of hard to teach a fast guy to slow down, but at the same time, he's getting better each day."

Ward, in his role as mentor, said he's "always watching" Wallace.

The reverse also is true, which helps explain why Wallace changed lockers this season — he's in Deshea Townsend's old one — and pretty much dresses next to Ward.

Wallace said he requested the move so he could stretch out a little and be closer to Ward, who owns just about every major receiving record in Steelers history.

"I watch him all the time to see what's going on," Wallace said of Ward. "He's done a lot of things I'd like to do. To do it, you've got to watch it."

Ward and the Steelers, of course, want Wallace to do much more than watch.

"The more he gets comfortable in route running," Ward said, "the more he and I will start complementing each other. You can't just be a guy that goes deep all the time."

Additional Information:

Revisiting the draft

The Steelers look like they got a steal when they took Mike Wallace in the third round (84th pick overall) of the 2009 draft. Here are the 10 wide receivers taken ahead of Wallace:

Darius Heyward-Bey (1st round/7th overall pick, Raiders): Has yet to disprove critics that scoffed at this pick.

Michael Crabtree (1/10, 49ers) : May finally be turning a corner after catching just six passes for 81 yards in 49ers' first three games.

Jeremy Maclin (1/19, Eagles) : Speed merchant needed just three games to match the number of TDs (four) he had in 2009.

Percy Harvin (1/22, Vikings): Health issues are the only things that have slowed down the versatile and dynamic Harvin.

Hakeem Nicks (1/29, Giants) : Has emerged as the Giants' No. 1 receiver and is second in the NFL with six touchdown catches.

Kenny Britt (1/30, Titans): Averaged 16.7 yards per catch as a rookie and is starting to warm up after slow start to this season.

Brian Robiskie (2/35, Browns): Cleveland native and former Browns ballboy has yet to make an impact for hometown team.

Mohamed Massaquoi (2/50, Browns): Former Georgia star would benefit if the Browns could establish some stability at QB.

Derrick Williams (3/82, Lions: Penn State product has just eight career catches and is no longer returning kickoffs with Stefan Logan in Detroit.

Brandon Tate (3/83, Patriots): Has returned two kickoffs for TDs this season and is a starter following the Randy Moss trade.

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