Mike Wallace, the fresh new face of the Miami Dolphins’ plan for the playoffs, dismisses the idea of feeling any external burden to meet or exceed expectations. “I put enough pressure on myself,” he said Wednesday.
The onus is on him, though, and that’s fair.
He should understand that.
Whether he acknowledges it or not, it is there.
Whether he parlays it as motivation or buckles from its weight, it is there.
No Dolphins player will bear heavier expectations into the coming season than the newly imported receiver from Pittsburgh. It matters not whether the expectations are his own or others’; they will be on him like the sweat of a July training camp.
Not even second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill will face as much pressure. Tannehill is a work in progress, after all. Wallace is supposed to be great enough to help the young QB be great, not vice versa. That’s why he is here.
Wallace’s proving is not done. Really, it has just begun.
There is agreement that Wallace is very fast, his irrefutable commodity, but not broad consensus whether he is an elite wide receiver or merely very good.
He must be elite here, and not less. He must be a guy who earns his way into the hallowed company of Paul Warfield, Mark Duper and Mark Clayton whenever Dolfans are discussing the club’s greatest receivers.
He is being paid to be that.
Wallace’s five-year contract could swell to $60 million – $30 million of it guaranteed. Instantly he finds himself the NFL’s third-highest-paid receiver after Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, both more accomplished. Whether Wallace merits their company, this money, will be open to debate until he proves he is.
Miami and general manager Jeff Ireland are rightly getting credit, here and nationally, for landing Wallace, despite the great cost. I certainly like the signing. The Dolphins last year had a boring offense with little of the excitement we expected new coach Joe Philbin to bring with him from Green Bay. A lot of that was the lack of a deep threat — any threat to cause opposing defensive coordinators a fitful sleep.
Wallace is supposed to change. Right now.
Newly re-signed safety Chris Clemons was asked Wednesday if he had ever covered Wallace. He remembered one occasion: “I had the middle of the field. Corner played off [him]. He took it to the house. He can definitely take the top off the coverage.”
That means use his 4.3 speed to blow past the deepest line of defense and put nothing but open space between him and a goal line.
There are concerns he must overcome or prove false, however.
A reputation for casual route running precedes him, as does a tendency toward occasional dropped passes. One wonders why a savvy organization like the Steelers would let him go. One also wonders if a player who held out for more money last season will be satisfied now by all those guaranteed Miami millions — satisfied as in not as motivated as he should be.
I’m not being skeptical. I think Wallace will be great. But the Dolphins’ recent track record at the receiver position invites a shade of wait and see.
Miami is the team that underutilized Wes Welker, practically gave him away to New England, and watched him become one of the NFL’s most prolific receivers (and a Dolphin-killer, too).