Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New England Patriots [Print without images]

Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Perspectives on Mike Wallace

By Mike Reiss

The possibility of making a run at Steelers restricted free agent Mike Wallace has been analyzed in this space. Wallace is the type of outside-the-numbers speed receiver that the Patriots (and other teams) could use, but the cost would be steep.

The following are three perspectives on Wallace:

Mike Wallace
1. View from Pittsburgh. Ed Bouchette, who covers the team for the Post-Gazette, blogs an informative piece on Wallace. Bouchette dissects how Wallace's free-agent scenario is likely to unfold -- the Steelers tendering him at the first-round level as a restricted free agent -- and then sums up his NFL career this way: "His first three seasons have been rocket-like, with him climbing higher and higher. However, in the middle of what seemed to be his best and record-setting season [in 2011], Wallace fizzled. ... Here's the question the Steelers and other prospective suitors in free agency must determine: Did defenses figure out Mike Wallace finally as the one-trick pony that Mike Tomlin long declared he was?"

2. Belichick's take on Wallace. Prior to the Patriots-Steelers game on Oct. 30, 2011, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about Wallace, who was targeted as a key player to limit in the game-plan, which opened up the inside passing game for the Steelers. "He's a big play receiver. He's really fast. Nobody is going to catch him, so you have to be careful about how much space he gets when he catches the ball," Belichick said. "I think he's improved a lot from when we played them last year, just as a football player, his patience and route technique. He has great speed but he also is getting better at route technique, setting up routes, using his speed, changing his pace. He's good after the catch with the ball in his hands. He breaks tackles and eludes people, does a nice job of going up and getting the ball in the deep part of the field, he's taken it away from some defensive backs. I'd say overall [he] improved his route running in the red area where there's less space. He still is a key guy down there. He did a lot of things well last year, doing them well this year and even better. [He's made] plays in just about every game. He stretches the field but he can also take a short pass and turn it into a long run, so you have to defend him from the line of scrimmage to the back of the end zone and from sideline to sideline. He's a tough guy to match up on. He's done a good job. Obviously he's worked hard and he's being well coached and he's got a good quarterback and other good receivers to complement him. He's part of their very productive offense."  

3. Caserio's take on Wallace. On a conference call on Oct. 24, leading into the Patriots-Steelers game, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio was asked about Wallace, who entered the league as a third-round draft choice out of Mississippi in 2009. Why did he slip to the third round? "Coming out he was a big, fast receiver. His production, just in a relative base - I think he had back-to-back 30-catch years. Some of that was the offense, some of that was some other factors," Caserio said. "But since he's been in the league, since year one up until this point, he's really improved just as an overall receiver. I think he was big and could always run. He's just become more consistent in all phases - route running, catching the ball, understanding coverages, just understanding how the defense is playing. Really these last couple years, including this year, he's played at a very high level. He had a real productive year for their offense last year. I think he's averaged, I want to say, 20 yards or close to 20 yards a catch since he's been in the league, so he's always been a big play receiver who can attack the third level part of the defense - the vertical part of the defense. He's done some other things just with the underneath route running and he's improved. It's a credit to him and a credit to the Pittsburgh coaching staff for what they've done with him."