Mike Wallace was a good soldier last year.
From a professional standpoint, 2013 was a step back. He set career lows in touchdowns (five) and yards per catch (12.7).
Yet by and large, Wallace said the right things. He was a vocal supporter of Joe Philbin during the team's bullying mess. He even won the media Good Guy Award for his pleasant and regular availability.
But just beneath the surface, unhappiness lurked. After particularly disappointing games, Wallace would swallow words in press briefings – or, on one occasion, say nothing at all.
On Monday, he finally acknowledged what many outsiders suspected all along: he was frustrated with his first year in Miami.
“It has nothing to do with the offense,” Wallace said. “It was more myself, not playing up to my personal standards for myself. It was a new situation. [Now], I’m a lot more comfortable. I’m ready to go.”
He’s not just comfortable. He’s actually having fun.
And Bill Lazor’s new offense has a lot to do with it. Wallace torched the Dolphins’ defense for three touchdown catches during practice Monday, an early sign that Miami’s recast system is more suited to his skill set.
“It just makes coming to work easier,” Wallace said. “It makes it more fun for you when you know you can move around, do different things that in my whole career, I’ve never really done. A fresh opportunity every day.”
Under deposed coordinator Mike Sherman, there were no surprises. Wallace, most every single play, lined up wide on the right side. He rarely motioned. And Wallace's productivity probably suffered because of it.
“Last year, they kind of knew where I was every single play,” Wallace said. “I was there every game, the same spot. When you move around, it’s harder for a defense to know where you’re at.”
Lazor, meanwhile, wants to put Wallace in matchups that give him the best chance to get open. He even broke loose on a double-reverse Monday.
While Dolphins coach Joe Philbin chose not to re-litigate last year's failings, he did concede that are there are benefits to versatility in alignment.
“I think he’s a lot more comfortable with how do things, the way the program is, and how he fits into that,” Philbin said. “I think all of those things are going to pay dividends.
“It sounds like a little thing,” he added. “It’s not a route, it’s not a technique, it’s not him catching the ball. We all know in our own professions, if you feel better about walking through the door, ultimately, your performance is better.”
Wallace added that he can be “a lot better. Last year, I didn’t even have a thousand yards. We can be a lot better. So much better. Not just moving around, but playing football in general. Being a better player, putting in more work. I always feel I work hard, but work even harder every day.”• The Dolphins’ linebacker experiment continues, with Koa Misi working exclusively in the middle Monday and Dannell Ellerbe and Jelani Jenkins alternating snaps on the strong side.
Ellerbe told reporters Monday that he learned about the move during his first meeting with new linebackers coach Mark Duffner, and had no issue with it.
“It’s going back home,” said Ellerbe, who played as a 4-3 weak-side linebacker in college.
Ellerbe's workload was particularly light Monday. He didn't work with the Dolphins' nickel package, but said he has lined up in its dime set this spring.• Dion Jordan’s slow recovery from his predraft shoulder surgery almost cost him his entire rookie season. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said that the team considered putting Jordan on injured reserve shortly before the 2013 season began, but ultimately decided against it.
Jordan had two sacks last year, getting the fewest snaps of any Dolphins defensive end. He has since bulked up to 265 pounds, and is expected to play a bigger role in the team's defense.• Kick returner Marcus Thigpen returned to practice Monday after missing last Tuesday’s OTA with a back issue. While the Dolphins had perfect attendance, both wide receiver Brandon Gibson (knee) and defensive tackle Jared Odrick (undisclosed) were limited in their participation.