Broncos, Steelers trade barbs over center Wallace's hit
It is a well-known, if not entirely accurate axiom that an offensive lineman draws attention only when he misses a key block, commits an ill-timed penalty or finds some other way to mess up. Or, in the case of Steelers center Cody Wallace, when his name is mentioned in connection with the b-word.
In a 34-27 win over Denver on Dec. 20 at Heinz Field, Wallace nailed safety David Bruton Jr. with a diving, helmet-to-helmet hit that drew a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness, a $23,152 fine and apologies from the perpetrator. Wallace later said he was trying to protect teammate Antonio Brown.
Some of the Broncos still are simmering. One of them, safety Darian Stewart, told reporters this week that Wallace is “going to be sore” after Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game in Denver and added, “I'm cutting him,” an apparent reference to taking out Wallace's knees.
After practice Wednesday, Wallace seemed more amused by the gaggle of reporters in front of his locker than concerned about the comments. Not amused was guard Ramon Foster, who answered back.
“You put that kind of stuff out there, that just gives you a bigger bull's eye,” Foster said. “Those guys, that's their problem. Hopefully the refs will be looking at that. The league needs to look at that because that's making a bounty. So, you want to talk about safety? Address that. Take a stand on that. They made a bounty on a guy who hadn't done anything to him.”
Bounty is a nasty four-letter word in NFL circles. If Stewart never actually uttered it, he did seem to imply potential mayhem.
“It's not going to be anything as far as cheap or anything,” Stewart said. “We're going to get them between the lines, between the plays, the whistle. So, I mean (Wallace) is going to be sore after the game. That's how I see it, man. He comes out on a screen (pass), he better not come at (me). I'm cutting him (at the knees). That's where I am with it.”
Wallace, drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2008 and with his sixth NFL team, chuckled over the media horde he attracted and took it all in stride.
“They wanted to stick up for their guy, like I was for AB,” he said. “That's good, and that's the sign of a good team.”
Asked if he liked being “Public Enemy No. 1,” Wallace, who has started every game this season in place of injured All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey, laughed again and said, “No, I wouldn't say all that.”
“It's understandable,” he said. “I knew at the time when it happened I was in the wrong. The league handled it the way they wanted to, and I paid my fine. Just move on and see what happens.”
As for going at his knees, Wallace said, “That happens a lot, anyways.”
Offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert said, “You can talk all the talk, but once you're on the field, (Stewart) has to make plays. We'll see him. I'm not concerned. We're gonna stand up for our guy.”
Some Broncos apparently tried to downplay the controversy Wednesday. Cornerback Aqib Talib, who had said Wallace should have been suspended, said, “You expect a physical game. I don't think it will mean anything. And I know him a little bit. I got to know him (in Tampa Bay in 2012). He's a pretty good guy, if I remember.”
“We're just focused on playing our football. Really. All the other stuff, whatever is said, is just noise,” Denver nose tackle Sylvester Williams said.
Low-key off the field, Wallace presents a marked contrast on it. The hit was his third unnecessary roughness penalty this season. Flags aside, his aggressiveness “is kind of what's made me valuable here,” he said. “I've got to work hard to do what I can out there.”
“Cody's a hard, tough, physical player that loves to play the game of football,” Gilbert said. “He shows it out there on the field.”