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Ex-Steeler WR Wallace: It was a 'challenge' for Haley to use me

| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 8:24 p.m.
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Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace scores a touchdown against the New York Jets in the fourth quarter during their game at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 1, 2013 in East Rutherford, N.J.

Mike Wallace “has a lot of love for Coach Tomlin.”

He thinks of Ben Roethlisberger as his “big brother” and the Steelers organization as “family.”

Wallace described the Steelers' secondary as “smart players,” “crafty guys” and “always in the right place.”

The former Steelers No. 1 receiver was full of praise Wednesday leading up to his return to Heinz Field on Sunday.

As for offensive coordinator Todd Haley and his game plans, that's another story.

Wallace headed to Miami in March with a $60 million contract after a final season with the Steelers in which he said he believed he “kinda” was misused by Haley and his horizontal style of offense.

“I think it was a little bit of a challenge for him to use me,” Wallace said. “It was (his) first year, and I wasn't in training camp, and he got a chance to see other guys and what they were able to do.”

Wallace did not sign his restricted free-agent tender and report to the Steelers until two weeks before the start of the season, setting a subpar season in motion.

Despite coming off a 73-catch, 1,193-yard, eight-touchdown season, Wallace wasn't much of a factor in Haley's game plan, especially when it came to Wallace's strength: going deep.

“It was a different scheme,” Wallace said. “Our scheme with (former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians) was a lot more vertical than Coach Haley, and obviously that was my strength. My numbers were a little bit better with B.A.”

Wallace had 31 targets of 20 yards or farther under Haley last season. The year before under Arians, he had 27, but the production was better. Wallace caught nine passes, including five touchdowns, of 20 yards or longer two years ago under Arians. Last season, he caught five passes over that distance.

“We had a new offensive coordinator and a totally new offense,” receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. “We are comfortable with the system now. We are doing a lot of different things than we did last year.”

The Steelers offense has thrived in recent weeks, and Haley has introduced the long ball back into the game plan despite not having a true deep threat. Roethlisberger has completed twice as many 20-yards-or-longer passes than he did in the same amount of attempts last season.

“It certainly helps all parties involved when you can stretch the field,” tight end Heath Miller said.

Wallace hasn't been able to replicate the deep-ball prowess in Miami. He has three receptions of 40 yards or longer but has put up some big numbers over the past two weeks, with more than 100 yards and touchdowns in each game, including a 57-yarder against Carolina.

“You have to stay on top of him,” safety Troy Polamalu said. “Giving up big plays like we have this year is the easy way to get points on us. Most teams aren't usually patient enough to dink and dunk, and you just have to stay on top of him.”

Wallace has 56 catches for 743 yards and three touchdowns this season. He has been targeted a team-high 105 times but is averaging only 13.5 yards per reception.

“He's been a great addition,” Miami coach Joe Philbin said. “It's been a work in progress, but I think he is having a good season. He is starting to get the ball in the end zone, and we hope that continues. He has been a great asset.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib

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