Mike Wallace, Wide receiver
IN THREE YEARS at Mississippi and one with the Steelers, Wallace has caught 140 passes, total. So how can he be qualified to replace Santonio Holmes, a Super Bowl MVP coming off the best year of his career? Losing Holmes's 79 receptions, particularly with a backup quarterback playing at least the first quarter of the season, presents a huge headache for the Steelers—and a huge challenge for Wallace. Confidence, at least, won't be an issue for the 24-year-old. "My plan," he says, "is to go to the Pro Bowl ASAP. ASAP, to me, is this year."
The 6-foot, 199-pound Wallace has more speed than Holmes; he ran a sub-4.3-second 40-yard dash at Mississippi and gained a league-leading 19.4 yards per reception as a rookie. It's the fine points of the position he must master. He's had to become a more disciplined route-runner while learning how to get in and out of cuts more quickly, so that he can catch balls thrown to spots. That was his mission throughout the summer, when he watched a lot of tape on Holmes. One day at camp Wallace stayed on the field after practice for 25 minutes, doing nothing but running sideline and corner routes on cornerbacks.
The Steelers have two intermediate targets to troll the middle of the field in wide receiver Hines Ward and tight end Heath Miller. But no one on the roster can match Wallace as a long-ball threat, and he ran countless deep routes in camp and in preseason games, trying to get on the same page quickly with the quarterbacks. Wallace will have to deal with safety-over-the-top coverage, which he didn't often see as a third receiver last year, but that doesn't faze him either. "I've been waiting for this moment," Wallace says, "and there's no doubt I'll do it." The Steelers are gambling he can.