By Hal Habib
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
The look on his face told a story, but only part of it. This was Mike Wallace, opening up. He’s never shy with the media, but Saturday, he was reflecting on his initial season with the Dolphins and skipping the sugarcoating.
And while it’s one thing to admit what everyone else has been thinking — that there’s more to Mike Wallace than what we’ve seen in a Dolphins uniform — the most important words Wallace uttered were directed toward 2014.
“I think you’ll see a big difference from Year 1 to Year 2,” he said.
Wallace no longer is the newcomer who’s the prize catch of the free-agent class, the game-breaker who was going to replace Tony Sparano’s fist-clenching field-goal celebrations with joyous spikes in the end zone. And while Wallace’s first season in Miami was respectable (930 yards, five touchdowns), it wasn’t what anyone — especially Wallace — considers anywhere near his potential.
Toss in that Miami spent a second-round pick on receiver Jarvis Landry this year and it’s no wonder the off-season was littered with rumors the Dolphins were considering trading Wallace. It was such that Wallace and new general manager Dennis Hickey sat down to clarify his standing.
“He definitely told me don’t worry about it, that it was never true,” Wallace said. “And I believe him, because I’m here today.”
Here, and a new man, he said.
“I feel like now, it’s kind of like, let’s just play,” Wallace said. “Here, I was worrying about coming in, getting to know the guys, fitting in, knowing the coaches, knowing the system. Just a lot. It was a lot tougher than people think.”
Wallace, who turns 28 Friday, prides himself in staying level-headed, but he admitted he compounded the situation by overburdening himself.
“Coming in on a young team, trying to be a leader on a team that I’m not even familiar with the guys,” he said. “I think this year I feel a lot more comfortable. All my guys are coming, talking to me: ‘How do you feel about this? How do you feel about that?’ I feel the guys have a lot more confidence in me. I always have confidence in myself but I feel like my teammates trust me a lot more.”
Of course, no trust means more than the belief Wallace can win from quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Throughout the first two days of training camp, all eyes zero in on the field anytime Wallace is going deep and Tannehill launches one. Sometimes, those plays result in a collective sigh from the stands. But when they hit — and they have a few times — the cheers have been the loudest.
Wallace will earn $15 million in 2014, tied with Denver’s Peyton Manning for the third-richest salary in the league and making him the only wide receiver to crack the top 10. Coach Joe Philbin is seeing signs Wallace is earning those paychecks.
“I thought Mike had a really good off-season program,” Philbin said following mini-camp. “You’ve seen him after practice (doing extra work). Nobody is holding a bat to his head. This guy is out there working.”
Once the pre-season ends, nearly all the team’s work is done behind closed doors. Among those close to the team, there is a belief Wallace didn’t run those extra routes with Tannehill last season to build that cohesion. The fact Wallace is much faster than Miami’s other receivers made it even tougher for Tannehill to get used to Wallace’s change of pace. Wallace said he and Tannehill have put in time this off-season to work out kinks.
So now, Wallace hopes, the Dolphins will see the Mike Wallace who was capable of 1,257 yards in 2010 or 1,193 in 2011. The Wallace who averaged 8.6 touchdown receptions for Pittsburgh from 2010-2012. The Wallace who caught touchdown passes of 95 and 82 yards his final two seasons with the Steelers, as opposed to a long gain of 57 last year.
What did Wallace learn in 2013 that will help in 2014?
“You’re going to have expectations on you, but as a player, I’ve just got to keep my head,” he said. “I can’t worry about anything but the focus and the grind every single day on the field. I can’t worry about the off-field stuff, this person, that person. You’ve just got to focus, man.
“And I feel like I take that with me every day and I learned that. That was a great learning experience for me.”http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/sport ... cti/ngn9z/