With training-camp opening up on Friday and a degree of optimism that will surely fade, I want to take a look at a player who I hope (I dare not say think, at the chance of being called overly optimistic) shocks the league this year. Mike Wallace.
Wallace signed a five-year, $60 million deal last offseason, but an optimistic fan base was quickly shot back down to earth because of missed opportunities, and the realization that the speedster they signed was not a complete player. Wallace’s pure speed effected defenses as there were rarely instances where there wasn’t a safety placed over the top the top of him, but Wallace didn’t affect the game like he, or we all hoped. Wallace was only able to muster 930 yards on 73 receptions yielding a career low in yards per catch (12.7) but even more disappointing than a lack of receptions and yards, was his inability to put up points, as Wallace registered a career low in touchdowns with 5 (38th in the league).
Wallace isn’t afraid to admit that he was disappointed with himself last year, and now he wants to do anything he can to have a greater effect on the outcome of games. Wallace recently said that “I might get back there for kickoff returns….I just want to be on the field making an impact for my team. I’ve always wanted to return kicks ever since I’ve been in the NFL.”
And absolutely a guy with blazing speed could make an impact returning kicks, even though we are talking about a guy who doesn’t particularly care for the middle of the field and contact, his speed would surely give special team coordinators headaches, but don’t get to excited. Its likely that Wallace will only be seen returning kicks during your Madden franchise, as the Dolphins will surely be heart pressed to drastically increase Wallace’s exposure to injury. Regardless of whether, or not Wallace returns a kick this year in the real world, I am still happy that he wants to.
Characterized for most of his career as a very selfish player, this seemingly sincere change in perspective is making me think about what other parts of his game Wallace could change to better serve the Phins before we go expanding his job description.
In Pittsburgh Wallace logged back-to-back 1,110-plus-yard seasons in 2010 and 2011, he was a touchdown machine whom had an 18 yards per reception average. This is who the Dolphins thought they were getting when they broke the bank. Sure, he did flash some of that explosiveness in Miami, but the flashes were sometimes weeks apart. Wallace only had four games where he registered more than 100 yards receiving, and there were six games where he registered less than 25 yards. And those numbers can’t repeat in 2014 if the Phish are going to swim in January.
Wallace is one of the league’s highest-paid receivers, but need needs to do some work to be one of the leagues best. Only Megatron has more guaranteed money wrapped into his contract and Wallace is not Megatron, nor can we expect him to be but we can demand that he be better. And he certainly expects to be, Wallace has said that, “I should have had 15 or 20 more touchdowns. And that’s being modest.”
Although Wallace’s speed and his confidence need no improvement, the rest of his game could use work. With another year and better timing with Tannehill, Wallace should have another 5 touchdowns on plays that were head bangers this year but he doesn’t need to stop there. Despite his success in Pittsburgh it wasn’t as though he was a complete player there. Wallace has below average hands, and his body catching style minimizes Tannehill’s target and his already sometimes suspect route running. I mean if you put hands on a receiver with feet his feet you could have one hell of a specimen (I wonder what Chris Carter, Chris Chambers, or O.J. McDuffie’s hands are doing these days). But outside of surgery, if Wallace worked on his craft as much as he purports to have this summer maybe the track star will turn into a receiver after all.
The scary (great) thing is that even if Wallace is running around out there with oven mitts on his again like last year his production should still be improved. Tannehill figures to take big step forward in year three (he doubled his touchdowns from year one to year two and became one of the leagues best red-zone passers) due to his own maturation, the semblance of a offensive line that is now at least better than some of the all county Pop Warner lines in Texas, and most importantly a new mentor. Mike Sherman was Tannehill’s mentor in College Station and in his first years in Miami, but now he gets to work under a witch doctor who somehow made Nicholas Edward Foles good. And this is great news for Wallace and his numbers, but what Wallace should be most excited about is that its not last year.
In Mike Sherman’s offense Wallace would line up on the right side of the offensive almost 100% of the time (approximately 90-percernt of the time) and run something off of his simplistic route tree (which normally meant his jog then sprint fly pattern). There was no motion, there was no creation of mismatches pre-snap and from what we talked about there was limited production. Defenses wont be able to design schemes to take Wallace away as easily in 2014 however. New OC Bill Lazor reportedly will use Wallace out of the slot and out of the backfield to take advantage of the mismatches that Wallace’s speed and quickness creates and he might even have him run a full route tree. This just might turn the speedster into a shell of a receiver instead of the highly paid decoy he was last year.
A slightly humbled and more focused Wallace in a new high-octane offense with an improved quarterback sounds like points.
Tis the season for unfounded optimism.