When the Dolphins signed Mike Wallace to that $60 million contract that was the largest Miami ever gave any free agent, they bargained for a player who could change the team’s personality. The Dolphins paid for a deep-threat receiver to turn a lethargic, almost stagnant offense into a quick-strike attack.
And Wallace, with more speed than a NASCAR race, is a good bet to do just that because that’s exactly what he did for the Pittsburgh Steelers the past four seasons.
But maybe the Dolphins are getting more than they paid for.
The Dolphins are getting a player who is good, knows it, and doesn’t mind the challenge of proving it. The Dolphins are getting a player who has been successful in the past and has no qualms about predicting success in the future.
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The Dolphins are getting a player who looks out over a locker room of teammates conditioned to say the least-attention-grabbing thing, and calmly calls out his coming opponent even as he’s smiling.
“It’s going to be a battle all day long,” Wallace said in anticipation of his coming match against Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden. “I’m excited about it. I’m going to sleep early, so I hope he’s going to sleep early because it’s going to be a long day.”
“I’m going to have my swagger up,” Wallace said, “so he better be ready on Sunday.”
The last time a Miami offensive player talked like this was, well, maybe never in the 23 years I’ve covered the team.
Dan Marino played with swagger and ego, but talk like it before a game?
Marino was the man who told cornerback Tim McKyer to shut up when McKyer talked trash about Kansas City defensive players before a playoff game.
Joey Porter had a big mouth and Jason Taylor once called out the Chicago Bears, but both were defensive players.
Mark Duper? Mark Clayton?
They talked about themselves but not so much about their opponents.
Randy McMichael? Keith Jackson?
They had the gift of gab and sizeable egos to go with their talent. But quotes about what they were about to do either don’t exist or are buried deep inside a vault of bluster.
No, Wallace is a cool breeze of confidence inside the stifling Dolphins locker room. He’s good. He knows it. And he doesn’t mind saying so.
Understand that Wallace has plenty of reasons to lay low. The contract he signed makes him a target because players who get paid that much money are expected to produce statistics that are in line with their paycheck. They constantly are monitored to see if they’re living up to their steep price.
No problem for Wallace. He wants you to expect a lot from him. He’s good with people judging his performances.
“It’s the life we chose,” he said with a shrug. “It’s the thing that comes with it. I think it’s a good thing. I’d rather all eyes be on me than not. I take it in a positive way. I’m blessed. I’m very fortunate. There are lots of people who wish eyes were on them.
“I have no problem with it.”
The interesting thing about Wallace is that he shows this confidence even in the face of potential disaster.
The Browns, a struggling team starting fresh with their sixth coach in nine years, are nonetheless a bitter rival of the very successful Pittsburgh Steelers — Wallace’s previous team. It must be a Rust Belt thing, but these two franchises traveling in different directions trade punches equally when they meet.
And there were days Wallace took some of those blows.
Consider that Wallace, who has averaged eight touchdowns per season in his career, hasn’t scored a touchdown against Cleveland since 2010.
Consider that his worst game of 2012, in which he caught one pass for 5 yards, was against Cleveland.
Consider that his worst game of 2011, in which he caught one pass for 11 yards, was against Cleveland.
Is Wallace worried about that recent history? Is he questioning his ability to play well in this game?
“I’m not thinking about those games,” he said, smiling. “You have to forget it. If you’re going into a game thinking about the past, you’re losing. You want to go into a game focused on that game.
“You can’t make up for the past. You have to do your best this time. I don’t worry about that. It’s a different circumstance every single time. You have to be excited about this time we play them.”
Wallace is excited because Haden, a former first-round pick who likely will shadow him everywhere he goes, is a quality cornerback. He’s excited because Browns fans remember him from his Pittsburgh days and probably will pick on him just as they did when he was on the Steelers.
“I don’t think they’ve ever thrown anything at me, but they do everything but throw things at me,” Wallace said. “They use every word under the sun that’s not good. Anything they can do to degrade you, they do it.
“When I’m in the game, I don’t hear them. But when I’m on the sideline or stretching before the game, like when we’re in the end zone — that’s when you hear it. But when I’m in the game, I don’t pay attention to it. When I’m playing, everything kind of goes silent for me. I don’t hear anything. So I love it. Honestly, they have great fans.”
As for Haden, his nemesis, Wallace seems eager for the meeting. He wants to have a big day in his Dolphins debut.
“He’s an upper-echelon corner that lets you know if you’re ready or not,” Wallace said. “I think I’m ready. We’ll see on Sunday.”