Mike Wallace continues his holdout as the 2nd week of Steelers training camp gets underway. Many fans are upset with Wallace, and believe that he’s being selfish by holding out. Others think the Steelers are being cheap, and that they should just go ahead and pay Wallace.
But regardless of which side of that discussion you come out on, the basic question remains; do the Steelers even need Mike Wallace?
I’ve heard analyst say that now that the Steelers have given Antonio Brown a 5-year contract extension worth $42.5 million, they don’t have enough money left to pay Mike Wallace anywhere near what he’s seeking. Moreover, even if Mike Wallace were willing to accept a contract exactly like the one that Antonio Brown signed, the Steelers would probably be reluctant to invest $85 million into two wide receivers.
More importantly, if you look at what the Steelers have been doing in training camp, it doesn’t look like it’s tailored to fit Mike Wallace.
If we take a look at what Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley did while he was in Kansas City, it relied heavily on short passes, many of them going to the running backs. Dexter McCluster, Haley’s primary receiving threat out of the Chiefs’ backfield, caught 46 passes last year. Even fullback LeRon McClain caught 14 passes out of the backfield. By comparison, Rashard Mendenhall only caught 18 passes last year. And Isaac Redman also only caught 18 passes. So McCluster caught more passes out of the backfield than Mendenhall and Redman combined. More importantly, McCluster had 328 receiving yards. That’s more than Emmanuel Sanders had, and almost as many as Hines Ward compiled.
And after the first week of training camp, that is also what the Steelers offense has looked like. Haley has emphasized the running game and short passes, and he has stated that he wants Ben Roethlisberger to get rid of the ball quicker. He has stated that he likes the potential that he sees in Baron Batch and Chris Rainey. He doesn’t sound like he’s at all concerned that Mike Wallace isn’t in camp.
One of the problems with the long catches that Mike Wallace was known for is that those plays take a long time to materialize. It takes a long time to get 4o yards down field, even if you’re as fast a Mike Wallace. But Haley wants to keep Big Ben’s shirt clean by having him get rid of the ball quickly.
If you look at how often the Chiefs threw the ball deep, it looks very different than the Steelers looked under Bruce Arains. The Chiefs only completed 39 passes that gained more than 20 yards. The Steelers, on the other hand, completed 60 passes of over 20 yards in Bruce Arians’ offense.
Arians liked to use Big Ben’s arm, and fast receivers to “take the top off the defense”. Haley prefers to gain favorable match-ups of fast running backs against comparably slower linebackers in open space. And Chris Rainey and Baron Batch seem to be perfect weapons for that philosphy. Mike Wallace, not so much.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Mike Wallace wouldn’t help the Steelers. Part of Antonio Brown’s success was undoubtedly due to the attention that Mike Wallace commanded from the defense. Also, short passes to Chris Rainey or Baron Batch will be much more effective if Wallace is drawing a cornerback and a safety deep down the field.
But Emmanuel Sanders is capable of catching long passes too. He’s not as fast as Wallace, but he’s fast enough. So is Toney Clemons (should he make the final roster). So even without Wallace, I doubt that the Steelers’ offense will grind to a screeching halt. In fact, I think it will be just fine.
I don’t think the Steelers need Mike Wallace. Just like they didn’t need Santonio Holmes…..or Plaxico Burress….or Yancey Thigpen. But I certainly think that they’re a better team with Mike Wallace than they are without him, and I want to see him wearing black and gold in 2012 and beyond.