Wallace prepared for boos from Steelers fans
Miami wide receiver Mike Wallace returns to Heinz Field Sunday when the Dolphins face the Steelers.
PITTSBURGH – Mike Wallace expects to hear lots of boos aimed at him from Steelers fans Sunday at Heinz Field.
In fact, the former Steelers wide receiver might be disappointed if he isn’t booed.
Wallace, who signed a five-year, $60-million contract in the offseason to leave the Steelers and join Miami, knows it comes with the territory. He can live with his decision as the Dolphins prepare to play Pittsburgh in a game that is critical to the playoff hopes of both teams.
“I don’t think everything ended on the highest note,” said Wallace of why he expects to be booed. “I know between myself and the organization, we all know what the deal was, so I am good with it. It is what it is.”
Wallace drew the ire of Steelers fans last year by refusing to sign his one-year tender offer as a restricted free agent and skipping most of the preseason.
When he finally did decide to sign his contract, the Steelers were already well into the process of integrating new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s offense, which relied more on short, quick passes than that of former coordinator Bruce Arians. Arians’ scheme was reliant on the deep passing game, something that helped the speedy Wallace average 18.8 yards per catch in his first three seasons in Pittsburgh.
Wallace saw that average drop to a career-low 13.1 last year, though he managed to score eight touchdowns, the same amount he had in 2011.
Wallace felt he was misused last season, but also puts some of the blame for that on himself.
“Kind of, but you know, it is what it is,” Wallace said. “It was (Haley’s) first year. I wasn’t in training camp, so he got the chance to see other guys and the things they were able to do throughout training camp.
“He didn’t really have a chance to see me throughout training camp, so I think it was a bit of a challenge for him being able to use me.”
Wallace has had similar issues in Miami, where he’s averaging onlyu 13.3 yards per reception and has just nine catches of 20 or more yards.
Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders each have nine receptions of 20 or more yards for the Steelers, while 16 of Antonio Brown’s NFL-best 85 catches have gone for at least 20 yards.
Wallace and Miami’s second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill have struggled working together.
“He’s been getting behind defenders all year,” said Steelers safety Ryan Clark. “He’s been underthrown. He’s had to stop and wait on balls. Defenders have caught up to him because they’ve hung in the air. Tannehill is kind of going through what (Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger) had to go through. Once you start playing with Mike, you can’t overthrow him. Tannehill is having those growing pains of nderstanding you have to throw it before Mike gets behind a guy.”
The Steelers are hopeful that lasts one more week, though Tannehill and Wallace are showing signs of finding a connection. Wallace has 12 receptions for 209 yards and two scores in the last two games.
“It’s just a different team, a different scheme, a different role,” said Wallace. “I think things are starting to pick up and hopefully we can … get some good thing happening here in December.”
While the Steelers are intent on slowing Wallace, they also must be concerned about Miami’s other receivers, including shifty Brian Hartline, who leads the Dolphins with 62 receptions, and tight end Charles Clay, who has 53 catches.
While fans might be focused solely on Wallace and showering him with boos, the Steelers are focused on the group.
“This is probably the best group of receivers we’ve seen to date,” said Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor. “We’re going to have our hands full.”
Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (concussion) made it through his second full day of practice this week and said he’s been cleared by doctors to play Sunday. … In addition to Bell, linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) and offensive tackle Mike Adams (ankle) were full participants in practice. … Offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum (knee), guard David DeCastro (foot) and nose tackle Steve McLendon (ankle) were limited.