‘Young Money Family’ ready to pay off for Steelers

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by Will Graves
Associated Press Writer

LATROBE, Pa. (AP)—On the surface, it sounds a bit ridiculous and Mike Wallace knows it.

Still, the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver insists he wasn’t kidding when he told reporters last week that he planned on racking up 2,000 yards receiving this season.

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THIRD-YEAR SPEEDSTER—Mike Wallace puts on his helmet during training camp in Latrobe, Pa., on July 31. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

That’s more than Jerry Rice, who holds the single-season record at 1,858 yards, ever put up. More than Randy Moss. More than anybody who’s played the position. Ever.

Crazy? Maybe. Out of reach? Well, not if you ask the exuberant and highly confident third-year speedster.

“I’m not saying that I’m better than any of those guys, but I feel like I’m Mike and I’m my own person,” Wallace said Sunday. “I don’t care what Jerry Rice did. I don’t care what Randy Moss did.”

And to be honest, he doesn’t care what Plaxico Burress did either.

Sure, Wallace thinks landing the veteran—who signed with the New York Jets on Sunday after flirting with returning to Pittsburgh—would have been “sweet.” He’s just not sure it was necessary.

Wallace hears the talk about how Pittsburgh’s undersized receiving corps could use someone with Burress’ 6-foot-5 frame. Wallace would like to provide the critics with one little reminder.

“They forgot I jumped a 40-inch vertical at the combine,” he points out.

Hard to blame them. Wallace, who turns 25 on Monday, has gotten so good at outrunning defenders it’s easy to overlook the fact he can rise above them too.

The former Mississippi star averaged an eye-popping 20.3 yards per reception during his first two years in the league while emerging into one of the NFL’s top deep threats.

His 1,257 yards in 2010 were fifth in the league, numbers that might have been even better if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hadn’t been suspended the first four weeks of the year, forcing the team to play it more conservatively with backup Charlie Batch under center.

When Roethlisberger returned, Wallace took off, scoring eight of his 10 touchdowns in games Roethlisberger started and averaging 21.6 yards a catch over the final 12 weeks of the year. And the numbers aren’t skewed by a couple of lengthy scores. His longest reception was “only” 56 yards.

“Guys are scared of him,” second-year wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “He’s fast. He’s running past guys. He’s running great routes.”

And running them from multiple positions. While veteran Hines Ward is committed to lining up in the slot whenever he’s on the field, Wallace is versatile enough to be put anywhere.

Learning where to go and how to get there from both sides of the field took time. Yet Roethlisberger pointed to Wallace’s commitment in the film room and an underrated pair of hands for his rapid ascension into the league’s upper echelon.

“He does a great job getting in and out of his breaks,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s really improved from year one to year two and I’ll see big improvements this year.”

Even if Wallace chose not to fly from his home in New Orleans to Pittsburgh this spring to participate in a series of workouts led by Roethlisberger during the lockout. He did his own thing in the Bayou and spent time with his daughter, who turns 1 next weekend.

Wallace kept in frequent contact with his teammates and certainly appeared to be on the same page with Roethlisberger during practice Saturday, connecting for several long gains during a 2-minute drill during the first full workout with pads on.

The one thing Roethlisberger didn’t do is look for Wallace in the end zone on one of those patented “go-up-and-get-it” routes that made Burress a millionaire many times over.

Wallace understands. Truth is the Steelers have never asked him to unleash his inner high-jumper. Not that he hasn’t mentioned it to Roethlisberger a time or three.

“He reminds me daily that he’s got a 50-inch vertical or whatever it is,” Roethlisberger said. “People think only real big tall guys can get the high ball…it’s about can you get up and do it. He can get up and do it.”

Of course Wallace can. Just ask him.

“I feel like I can catch the same balls (Burress) can catch you know,” Wallace said. “I don’t have a problem with catching a fade on the goal line if you throw it to me. I don’t feel like you have to be 6-5 to catch a jump ball.”

Good thing, because there’s a real chance the Steelers won’t have the luxury this fall, and that’s just fine with the group that calls themselves the “Young Money Family.”

It’s a moniker Wallace, Brown and Emmanuel Sanders adopted last year while serving as understudies to Ward, the unit’s unquestioned leader. What the group lacks in height—no player is taller than 6-feet—it makes up for in athleticism and confidence.

“Yeah, we guys are small, but we can do a lot of versatile things,” said Brown, who had 16 catches for 167 yards a year ago. “We run past guys. If we need to jump we’ll jump. We’ll do whatever is necessary.”

Like Wallace, Brown and Sanders have certain numbers in mind. Both would like to crack 1,000 yards this year. Both would like to see tight end Heath Miller crack 1,000, too.

Impressive aspirations to be sure. Just not the kind Wallace has in mind. If you’re going to set the bar, might as well set it to where you can barely see it, right?

“Like I said, (2,000 yards) is a big goal,” Wallace said. “It’s pretty far-fetched but you always want to strive to be the best and in order to do that if I get 2,000 yards I think I’ll be the best.”

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