Starting role means Wallace must be more than just a deep threat
By: Mike Bires, Times Sports Staff
Beaver County Times
Sunday August 29, 2010

Mike Wallace could always go deep.

With his blazing speed, hes always been able to streak past defensive backs and scorch them on long balls.

Ive been doing that since high school, said Wallace, a second-year wide receiver for the Steelers whos the fastest player on the team with a time of 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash. And Im going to keep on doing it until someone stops me.

[IMGL][/IMGL]As a high school senior in New Orleans, Wallace used his speed to toast defensive backs for 19 touchdowns and average 17.3 yards per catch.

As a senior at Ole Miss, he was again a deep threat, ranking third in the NCAA at 20.1 yards per catch.

Last year as an NFL rookie and the Steelers No. 3 wide receiver, Wallace put on an electrifying long ball performance by leading the NFL with an average of 19.4 yards per catch. In tying for the team lead with six TD catches, four of his scores came on bombs of 47, 40, 60 and 54 yards. He also had other non-scoring catches of 51 and 45 yards.

In last weeks preseason win over the New York Giants, Wallace was at it again, catching a 68-yard TD throw from Byron Leftwich.

It was impressive but this year, in his new role with the Steelers, Wallace will be asked to do much more than just streak down the field and run deep.

Now that hes replacing Santonio Holmes in the starting lineup, Wallace must develop into a complete receiver.

That includes running crisper routes on short and intermediate patterns, knowing when hes the hot receiver who the quarterback throws to quickly when blitzed, and dishing out blocks on running plays.

Its not about the big catch for me because Ive seen him do that enough to know that thats a part of his game, coach Mike Tomlin said when asked about Wallaces long TD against the Giants.

Its about (developing) a complete game for him. Id be more excited about him catching a hitch, turning up-field and creating yards after (the catch). Im looking for steps in other areas, in terms of looking for a well-rounded game.

In that regard, Wallace is learning on the fly.

Even though Holmes is a big-time talent who was the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII, the organizaion grew tired of his many off-field issues that included an arrest for marijuana possession in 2008. The Steelers re-signed veteran Antwaan Randle El during the off-season, but its Wallace they want out there in the starting tandem with Hines Ward.

In fact, its been the 34-year-old Ward whos taken Wallace, ten years his junior, under his wing. Ward constantly offers tips on the nuances of playing wide receiver.

Tons, Wallace said of how much Ward has helped him. I cant even explain how much hes helped me. Without him, I dont know where Id be. Hes seen about everything there is. Hes definitely (sped) up the process for me.

Like Wallace, Ward was also selected in the third round of the draft. Hes developed into the Steelers all-time leader in catches, receiving yards and TD catches. Yet hes never been known as a speedster. Ward gets open by understanding defenses and exploiting defenses by running crisp pass routes.

Im hard on Mike because I have to be, Ward said. A lot of people forget that for Mike, this is only his second year. A lot of people think a second-year guy is going to become the savior of our passing game. Theres a lot of pressure on Mike.

You know, hes not going to be seeing the other teams third corner anymore. Hes going to be getting that No. 1 corner.

Wallace says hes up for the challenge.

I know what Im getting into, said Wallace, who caught 39 passes for 756 yards last year. I dont have a problem with that. Im excited about it. I cant wait. Thats why I work had every day. Im trying to get better every day and try to build on what Ive done so far.

But as he continues his development as a well-rounded receiver, Wallace still wants to keep his standing as one of the games best deep threats.

You cant go deep all the time, he said. Thats why Im working hard on other parts of my game. But I cant lie. I like going deep. Thats something Ive always prided myself on.