Miami Dolphins

Dolphins’ Mike Wallace puts in work to become more than just a deep threat

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace (11) catches a touchdown pass in front of New England Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler, right rear, and safety Devin McCourty (32) in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014, in Foxborough, Mass.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace (11) catches a touchdown pass in front of New England Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler, right rear, and safety Devin McCourty (32) in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014, in Foxborough, Mass. AP

Mike Wallace won’t deny it.

He doesn’t necessarily demand more deep balls be thrown his way. But he has dropped some strong hints to his coaches.

“Always,” Wallace said with a wry grin. “I always have something to say. I’m always like, ‘Take a shot.’”

Wallace later said: “I can’t be stopped. Not [with] man-to-man [coverage]. Nobody. Nobody.”

With some receivers of Wallace’s caliber — and bankroll — the admission would be major story and a possible distraction. But not on this team. And not with this receiver.

Despite what you have heard, Wallace is no diva. Far from it. He’s just honest — about his team’s shortcomings as well as his own.

The thing is, with each passing season, Wallace’s flaws are harder and harder to identify.

The reality: Whatever happens Sunday against the Vikings, Wallace has basically no shot at the playoffs. And his final stats, although better than a year ago, likely won’t suggest that he has had a career year.

But if nothing else this frustrating fall, he has probably buried the “one-trick pony” slur once and for all.

That’s what his old Steelers coach, Mike Tomlin, called Wallace early in the receiver’s career. The meaning: All Wallace could do is run deep. It was a loving insult, a playful way for Tomlin to motivate Wallace to become a complete player.

It might have worked.

“I don’t even go deep anymore,” said Wallace, whose Dolphins prepare for their penultimate — and nationally irrelevant — game.

“Any wide receiver in football thinks they should get the ball every play,” he said. “I always feel like I’m open. I honestly feel like I’m open 95 percent of the game. But reality? Maybe 80.”

And he has gotten open by basically running every route in the book. Wallace’s team-best 804 yards have come on 62 catches. He leads the Dolphins with eight touchdowns, but none have been longer than 32 yards. He has just 10 receptions of 20 or more yards; Wallace led the NFL with 26 such catches in 2010.

He has sacrificed stats and targets in Bill Lazor’s system. But he has been a good soldier throughout. Wallace hasn’t once criticized anyone to the media.

“From my chair, the biggest thing is he’s working,” coach Joe Philbin said. “He’s working at his profession every single day when he comes into the building. He’s always early. He’s always attentive in the meetings, and he’s giving effort. In the best sense, as coaches, you feel like that gives players a chance to have more success on the field on a Sunday. I like the way he is approaching things.”

In a wide-ranging interview with the Miami Herald, Wallace — who is 196 receiving yards from the third 1,000-yard season of his career — spoke about what has gone wrong this season, his confidence level in Philbin and the rest of the coaching staff, and how long he expects his trademark speed to last.

On why the Dolphins have likely fallen short of their goals, Wallace said: “I think if we stay a little healthier, we’ll be a lot better. We’re missing a lot of key players. We’re missing what could have possibly been a first-team All-Pro player [in Branden Albert]. But that’s football. People get injured.”

Wallace doesn’t believe the team needs a major shakeup such as a coaching change. In fact, he has been one of Philbin’s most vocal defenders.

“I think we have good coaches,” he said. “We’re rocking it out, man. Players, coaches, trainers, strength coaches. We’re rocking it out until the wheels fall off. I don’t care what nobody else has to say. This is my squad, this is my team.”

Wallace said the blame for this year’s failures — the Dolphins are 7-7 after dropping consecutive games at the worst possible time — should should fall on him. But in reality, it should be spread around.

“I’m not pointing fingers at nobody. I’ll take all the blame,” Wallace said. “I don’t care. The only thing that matters to me is my teammates, the people who are with us every single day. Outside, I really don’t care.”

Few would lay this year’s failure, even in small part, at Wallace’s feet. Getting open isn’t the problem, as he said. Having Ryan Tannehill hit him in stride is. Even when the two actually connect — as they did for a 50-yard gain on the first play of the Patriots game — Wallace rarely has gotten the ball in a position to do something with it.

Wallace, now 28, knows he can’t rely on that game-breaking speed forever. He briefly acknowledged that perhaps he already has lost half a step — before shooing the slightest doubt from his mind.

“Nah,” he concluded.

So how old will he be when he finally slows down?

“About 32,” he said. “But I honestly never think that I’ll run higher than a 4.4 [seconds in the 40-yard dash].”

He hopes to play into his mid-30s, catch 100 touchdown passes (he’s halfway there), go to multiple Pro Bowls, make an All-Pro first team and win a Super Bowl — which he believes is possible here.

And one more thing: He would like to prove to any doubters that he was worth every penny of the five-year, $60million contract the Dolphins gave him.

“You have a name,” Wallace said. “You just want to live up to it.”

▪ Miami signed wide receiver Matt Hazel off it practice squad, waiving linebacker Jake Knott to make room. Hazel, a rookie, was drafted in the sixth round last May.

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