Steeler receiver Mike Wallace ready for increased role
Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace, the logical replacement for Santonio Holmes, expects to be a main object of opposing game plans for the first time in his NFL career.
"(I know) there's going to be double-teams now,'' said Wallace, a third-round draft pick in 2009. "With Santonio and Hines (Ward), a lot of that pressure was taken off (last season). I know I'm going against elite corners now.''
With his new role, comes new expectations for Wallace, who embraces the challenge.
"I think I can make a major jump — I'm trying to make it to the Pro Bowl this year,'' said Wallace, the fastest receiver on the team. "People are going to have their doubts, but I'm going to be ready.''
Wallace's rookie season was a pleasant surprise. He played more than anticipated in taking over for Nate Washington as the No. 3 receiver, catching 39 passes for a team-high 19.4-yard average and six touchdowns.
When the Steelers traded Holmes to the New York Jets for a fifth-round draft pick, Wallace realized he would have to accept more responsibility.
Known for his explosive bursts downfield, Wallace must refine other areas of his game to erase the stigma of being a one-dimensional (speed) receiver.
"Regardless if Santonio was here or not, I was going to be ready for a bigger role,'' Wallace said. "I learned a lot from Santonio, and I'm going to continue to learn from him, even though he's not here. But this is our team, and I'm developing my new role.
"I'm trying to take no steps back. I know we've lost a big-time player, but I'm trying to make the drop-off a lot easier on everybody.''
Wallace will be expected to play outside like Holmes, one of the league's best route-runners.
Ward normally lines up in the slot.
Instead of running straight downfield against nickel backs, Wallace will now have to free himself at the line of scrimmage against starting cornerbacks intent on jamming.
"Hines is a big technique guy," Wallace said. "He has a lot of tricks. Santonio's a big route runner. I learned a lot from him just about keeping my eyes forward, keeping my arms pumping and keeping my feet moving - giving a perception of different things. With that combination of the best of both worlds, I'm ready.''
Wallace is keeping all of his options open. He fielded punts during practice, the way Holmes used to do, in case he's asked to fill that role during the season.
Stefan Logan was the Steelers' punt returner last season.
At Ole Miss, Wallace holds school records for single game, season and career kickoff return yards.
"If they want me to return punts, I will," he said. "I haven't done it in a while, but I look to get better in every aspect - not just at receiver. I never did it during practice last year, but I'd do it after practice. This year, if they want me on the depth chart, I'm ready at any time for whatever.''