DAVIE, Fla. — The second day of Dolphins training camp began with a sight that fans in Miami had become all too accustomed to seeing last season: Ryan Tannehill throwing a ball just out of the reach of receiver Mike Wallace.
Unlike last season, however, Wallace showed no signs frustration as he calmly jogged back down field to rejoin to his teammates. And though this passive attitude may simply be a product of a relaxed practice atmosphere, Wallace has certainly seemed more comfortable thus far, not only with his role on the team, but also with the letdown of last year.
"I think this year I feel a lot more comfortable," Wallace said. "I feel as though guys have a lot more confidence in me. I always have confidence in myself, but I feel like my teammates trust in me a lot more."
After four successful years in Pittsburgh, Wallace underachieved in his first season with Miami, compiling 930 receiving yards and five touchdowns despite being targeted a team-high 142 times.
Clearly frustrated by his lack of production and overwhelmed by all of the added responsibilities that arose during his first year with the Dolphins, Wallace is ready to put the drama of last season behind him and get back to simply playing football.
"I feel now it’s kind of like ‘let’s just play,’ " Wallace said. "(Last year) I was worried about coming in and getting to know the guys, fitting in, knowing the coaches and knowing the system. It’s a lot tougher than people think to go to a whole new team, especially with it being such a young team and me being a young guy coming into a young team trying to be a leader on a team where I’m not even familiar with the guys."
The best way to describe Wallace’s play last season was that he was predictable. Under former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, Wallace’s speed and athleticism were rarely used as the talented receiver became caught in a cycle of repetition. Almost every single play he would line up wide on the right side and rarely was put into motion.
This season, however, the offense looks reinvigorated under the direction of former Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor. With Lazor calling the shots, the Dolphins are expected to field a more up-tempo offense than year’s past and are likely to put Wallace in motion in order to give him favorable matchups and the best chance to get open.
This increased activity may seem like a tall order for a receiver who was rarely asked to break out of his comfort zone last season, but Dolphins tight end Charles Clay said Wallace will transition smoothly into his new, more versatile role with the offense.
"Mike’s a smart guy," Clay said. "Last year he only played in one spot, but Mike knows what everybody does. I’m sure he’s used to moving around some."
Even with an improved offensive system and the weight of first-year expectations off his shoulders, Wallace’s play this season will once again rely on Tannehill’s ability to throw deep balls accurately. As evidenced throughout the first two days of training camp, the third-year quarterback has yet to prove he’s remedied his biggest weakness from a year ago.
In hopes of improving their ability to get the ball down field, Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said Wallace needs to work on his timing in order to establish a better rhythm with Tannehill.
"Well, I think the timing and the rhythm, this is a timing and rhythm passing game," Philbin said when asked where Wallace can improve. "One of the, we call it, ‘axioms of the receiver position here’ is you have to be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there. I know that sounds simplistic, but that’s No. 1 (that) I think what he has to do. Then, we want to expand his route tree a little bit and we want to expand where he lines up a little bit. I think we’ve done some of those things, but we’re still starting to work on those."
With over a month until the regular season begins, Wallace will have plenty of time to work on his chemistry with Tannehill, as well as his indoctrination into the team’s new offensive system. As for his highly criticized first season in Miami, Wallace says he is better for the experience and ready to break out in 2014.
"It was a great learning experience for me from my first year," Wallace said. "I think you’ll see a big difference from year one to year two here."