Midway through the offseason when reports of his possible trade were making the Internet rounds, Mike Wallace got not one but multiple phone calls from general manager Dennis Hickey on the subject.
“He called and talked to me about it and told me it was never true,” Wallace said Saturday. “And obviously it was not because I’m here today.”
Nothing could have been further from the truth because Hickey never talked to any other team about Wallace but also because, at that same time, new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was setting plans for how to utilize the wide receiver in 2014.
And those plans involve using Wallace more.
Using him in a greater variety of ways.
Asking Wallace to do more and be more for the Dolphins rather than be on another team.
Those plans became apparent to Wallace this offseason when he got his first glimpse of Lazor’s offense. And now that training camp is open for business, Wallace is about to get a heaping serving of the buffet Lazor wants to put on his plate.
“I think I’ll get to run everything,” Wallace said. “I’ll be able to be a complete receiver instead of a one-dimensional guy. Coach tells me every day he’s going to work me to continue to push me to boundaries I’ve never been to.
“I’m excited about it. I’m definitely willing to accept the challenge and be the best player I can be. I feel as long as I’m put in a good position, I’ll play well.”
Wallace wasn’t necessarily put in the best position to succeed last season. None of the Dolphins receivers were because it is well chronicled that former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman kept Brian Hartline on the left side and Wallace on the right side practically every down — rarely using motion to help them get free of coverage, only occasionally using screens to get them the ball in open spaces on the field.
So far this camp, receivers are motioning, they’re getting the football on end-around plays, no one is lining up on the same side down after down.
And Wallace is running a variety of patterns that could extend his repertoire beyond the sideline go-routes he mostly ran last season.
Yes, but along with added opportunity comes added responsibility.
Wallace, not as great a technician with his routes as the Dolphins would have liked last year, is being asked to be more precise now.
“This is a timing and a rhythm passing game,” coach Joe Philbin said. “One of the axioms of the receiver position here is you have to be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there.”
Wallace, open on at least a dozen passes that could have been touchdowns had quarterback Ryan Tannehill delivered strikes last year, also has to recognize that rarely will those in-stride passes simply land softly in his arms.
In other words, he has to learn to win jump balls. He has to beat defenders for 50-50 balls. He has to come back, if necessary, for short passes.
“There were times last year where I could have come back and made plays on the ball, jumped over a couple of guys,” Wallace said. “I think that’s my biggest thing — coming back to the ball, jumping. Knowing that even though I got a guy beat, not every ball is going to come [in stride]. Some of them will be short.
“There are a lot of different things going on, so get to the play. The quarterback is getting rushed, he’s got to move around, the running backs and other guys got to block. So when the ball’s not perfect, I have to make plays on it.”
Yes, the Dolphins are asking more of their highest-paid player. But he believes his assignment for 2014 might actually be easier because he says he feels more comfortable with his place on the team.
“I know the guys, I know my coaches, I know the weight room. I’m not like a rookie again,” Wallace said. “I’m not like that. Last year I felt kind of like a rookie again, coming to a new environment and learning my new teammates, learning the surroundings.
“Now I feel comfortable. I love my teammates and coaches and I feel excited about making plays. As long as I keep a positive attitude about making plays, I think I’ll be all right.”
The attitude issue is a big deal. Wallace’s attitude wasn’t always the best last year. Although he never actually complained publicly, his frustration with game plans that didn’t utilize him much was obvious. Although he never said it, Tannehill’s inconsistent accuracy on deep passes bothered him.
Those frustrations only heightened the pressure Wallace felt about getting so much money and living up to his five-year, $60 million contract.
Wallace promises he has learned not to worry about such things now.
“This year I’m a lot more comfortable,” he said. “All my guys come and talk to me, ‘How you feel about this, how you feel about that?’ I feel as though guys have a lot more confidence in me and my team is trusting me a lot more.”