DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Mike Wallace sprung from his stance, wiggled once and accelerated past an outclassed defensive back with the ease of a Saturday morning cartoon character going “beep-beep.”
That wasn’t the only time Wallace sped into the clear during the first two days of Miami Dolphins training camp. He has started fast with his new team.
Yes, there have been miscommunications with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, incompletions and even a dropped pass or two. But it’s evident Wallace can really run.
“A rare breed,” fellow receiver Brian Hartline said Monday.
“You saw it on the first play,” cornerback Richard Marshall said. “He made a double move and was gone.”
“He’s a pretty elite talent,” Tannehill said. “He has a speed that not many guys have, especially in football.”
Wallace cashed in last March, when the Dolphins made him their highest-paid player by signing him to a $60 million, five-year free agent contract. Coach Joe Philbin is counting on Wallace to provide the deep threat long missing in Miami, and to help end the team’s streak of four consecutive losing seasons.
“That’s what I’m here for,” Wallace said. “That’s why coach brought me in. He wants the best players to bring to the table.”
Wallace was a winner with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who went 43-25 during his four seasons there, including one trip to the Super Bowl. Miami went 27-37 during the same stretch, largely because of a sluggish offense hamstrung by the inability to produce big plays.
Wallace averaged 17.2 yards per catch with the Steelers and made at least 60 receptions each of the past three years. He also totaled 32 touchdowns, three more than all of the Dolphins’ wide receivers totaled over the same span.
Speed scores. For Tannehill the biggest challenge will be not underthrowing Wallace.
“It’s fun to think that I always have to get it out there,” Tannehill said.
He and Wallace worked together a lot during the offseason, but the first training camp drills made it clear their timing is still not there, especially on deep passes.
“I think with Ryan, we will be on the same page soon,” Wallace said. “We’re on track to where we need to be.”
Wallace meshed quickly with Ben Roethlisberger, catching six touchdown passes as a rookie in 2009. But Wallace was then a lightly regarded third-round draft pick coming off the bench, and he’ll be Tannnehill’s No. 1 target.
“Two different quarterbacks at two different times,” Wallace said. “I’m not really going to compare those guys.”
He’s also disinclined to make any predictions about the Dolphins becoming playoff contenders.
“You want to have great expectations for yourself,” he said. “But at the same time you don’t want to put too much on yourself.”
Fan expectations are significant, in part because Wallace helped transform the weakest area on the Dolphins’ roster into a strength.
He’s joined in the pass-catching corps by Brandon Gibson, who caught five touchdown passes for the Rams last year; tight end Dustin Keller, who had 17 scoring receptions over the past five years with the Jets; and Hartline, who signed a $30.8 million, five-year deal in March after making a career-best 74 receptions for Miami in 2012.
Wallace becomes the leader of the group, even though he’s only 26. He said he’ll follow the examples of Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle El and Jericho Cotchery, his mentors in Pittsburgh.
“I was always used to being the youngest or the second-youngest in the room,” Wallace said. “So it’s an entirely different thing for me, but I embrace the role. I like it.”