On the Steelers: Wallace no longer a one-trick receiver
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Mike Wallace flashed more than one trick again. He showed more sleight of hand with a shoestring catch of a low, 53-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger. He displayed another, when, on a running play from the 2, he read his quarterback's mind and, with no audible call, ran a fade route for a 2-yard touchdown.
All that came with another 100-yard game Sunday vs. Seattle for Wallace, who said afterward that he no longer heard coach Mike Tomlin "call me a one-trick pony anymore."
Two days later, Tomlin referred to Wallace as a "one-trick guy."
"He's killing me, man, killing me," Wallace said, smiling as he did so. "I thought we were done with that. Last year, he said I was 11/2, so I kind of took a step back I guess."
His quarterback weighed in on the matter.
"He's about two tricks now," Roethlisberger said.
Wallace has fast become one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL. He led the league his 2009 rookie season with a 19.4-yard average per catch, upped that to 21.0 last season to lead the AFC and came out with a bold goal for 2011 -- the first man to catch 2,000 yards in passes in a single season.
He is on pace for 1,864.
"I got to pick it up," Wallace said, again laughing before he turned serious. "I don't worry about that. Before the season, it's fun to talk about that stuff. But, once the season starts, I just want to make plays and win."
His blazing speed was at the root of Tomlin's one-trick comments his rookie season. The one-trick stuff stuck because, basically, he ran "go" routes -- go as deep and as fast as you can. It is a reason he was drafted in the third round in 2009, not the first. At Mississippi, they did not ask him to run intricate routes, just go deep. He had to learn the rest once he arrived here.
"I never really worked on it," Wallace said. "When I got here, I started running stuff, and it was different. Now, I can run them pretty good."
The perfect example came on that 2-yard fade Sunday against the Seahawks. A run was called in the huddle, but Roethlisberger looked at Wallace, and they both understood to run the fade; the other nine players did not know and carried out their run assignments. You can't run that play anywhere but near the goal line or risk having illegal players downfield on the pass.
"He feels what I was doing and I feel what he's doing, and that's the way it's got to be," Wallace said.
Said Roethlisberger, "I trust him to know what I'm going to do and -- scary for me to say -- I trust what he's going to do. It's one of those things that worked out good and, if it didn't work, we'd probably get yelled at for it."
The quarterback said Wallace has gotten better because he wants to, but, like Tomlin, Roethlisberger wants to make sure his young receiver remains hungry, so he does not overdo the heavy stuff.
"He has pretty good hands, I wouldn't say he has great hands," Roethlisberger said. "He'll argue he has the best hands on the team, but he also thinks he's the best shuffleboard player, the smartest and he thinks he's No. 1 in everything. I think he has good hands, though, and I think he works real hard at it."
It is rare that a Steelers first-round draft choice does not hold down a starting job by his third season in the league, and, had that occurred in most cases, the B-word would be tossed around liberally.
But not everyone plays behind Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, two Pro Bowl defensive ends on what traditionally has been one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Ziggy Hood will make his first start at right defensive end Sunday in Indianapolis if Keisel, who has a sprained knee, cannot play. But it is not like Hood has been underachieving since the Steelers drafted him in the first round in 2009. He started 10 regular-season games and the postseason into the Super Bowl as then-injured Smith's replacement at left end in 2010.
Hood will get the nod over rookie Cameron Heyward, the first-round pick this year, even though Hood has played and practiced on the left side and Heyward almost exclusively on the right.
"I feel honored they came to me to start," Hood said, "because they could have just used Heyward on that side because he's more comfortable on that side than I am."
Lawrence Timmons did not start until his third season and reaped a new, $50 million contract before his fourth.
There have been two other first-round draft picks in the past 20 years who could not nail down a starting job by their third season here, and, in fact, never saw a third season with the Steelers.
Tackle Jamain Stephens, drafted in 1996, did start 10 games in his second season but he was waived before his third. Linebacker Huey Richardson, drafted in 1991, did nothing as a rookie and was waived before he could start his second season.
That's it. Neither player, though, found himself behind Pro Bowlers, just found himself not up to snuff. Hood said he does not feel time slipping by as he waits his turn, maybe because while he waits he has been playing so much.
"Oh, no, I'm 24 years old, I have a lot of time to go."
More line problems? Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who has labored with a left ankle sprain for several weeks, now has a hamstring injury and was limited in practice Wednesday. Guard Chris Kemoeatu (knee) and cornerback Bryant McFadden (hamstring), who missed the game Sunday, each went through a full practice. Also limited was halfback Jonathan Dwyer (shoulder). Defensive end Brett Keisel (knee) did not practice. ... Tight end/wide receiver Dorin Dickerson, who played at Pitt, had surgery this week on a thumb that was injured in his first day on the Steelers practice squad last week and is on the practice squad/injured list.
First Published September 22, 2011 12:00 am