The 2013 season didn’t exactly go according to plan for Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace. As the fourth-highest paid receiver in the NFL, Wallace only produced the 30th-most receptions, 28th-most yards and the 41st-most touchdowns at the position.
Even Wallace’s yards-per-catch average, which has typically ranked near the top of the league, dropped to 56th-best, worse than teammate Brian Hartline, who is merely a possession receiver with a limited ability to get open deep.
Sure, Wallace wasn’t solely to blame. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill failed to deliver a consistently accurate deep ball; to Wallace more so than any other target. According to Pro Football Focus, Tannehill only completed seven of 33 deep-ball attempts to Wallace’s side of the field, throwing three interceptions to only one touchdown pass — good enough for a measly 36.8 passer rating.
Wallace, however, could have done much more to help his quarterback. His 11 dropped passes were the fifth-most among receivers and the 195 yards lost on the those drops were the most in the NFL. Beyond the statistics, there were clear examples on film of times Wallace lacked desire in tightly contested situations, only half-heartedly attempting to catch the imperfect pass.
The reason Wallace didn’t live up to expectations during his first year in Miami can be attributed to several factors. For one, Wallace’s strength — the ability to separate deep on the nine route — coincides with Tannehill’s weakness — he’s yet to prove he can consistently hit the deep bomb. Physical aptitude and deficiency aside, the two clearly weren’t on the same page at times either.
It was quite evident that while Tannehill has had excellent rapport with other targets, most namely Brian Hartline, he was never quite in sync with Wallace. This could be seen in poor timing even more so than poor accuracy on some of the two’s deep disconnects.
With that under consideration, one would assume that developing more chemistry would be a priority for Tannehill and Wallace this offseason. That certainly could be the case, but it’s yet to be seen on the practice field.
“Though Ryan Tannehill has been throwing to receivers for more than two weeks, Wallace has been out of town,” Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald wrote on Tuesday night.
It’s still very early in the offseason and the Dolphins’ organized team activities don’t begin until later this month. Ideally, though, Wallace would be among those attending these workouts, especially considering the shortcomings of Miami’s deep passing game in 2013.
Perhaps Wallace has engagements he can’t get out of. Perhaps he’s simply re-charging the batteries before going full-throttle in his preparation with Tannehill throughout the duration of the spring and summer.
But Dolphins fans will only naturally question Wallace’s commitment. He, the highest-paid member of the team by far with a $15 million salary in 2014, is elsewhere while those making close to the league-minimum like Rishard Matthews are putting in overtime. That may speak more on the work ethic of a hungry player like Matthews than it does any lack of commitment from Wallace, but nonetheless, it’s not ideal.
Ideal would be Wallace and Tannehill working tirelessly together to not only improve their chemistry, but to emerge as one of the NFL’s most prolific connections. Despite what happened last season, they have the potential to become just that; perhaps, just not the drive.
Not to question Tannehill’s work ethic. He seems to be taking over the reigns as the Dolphins’ undeniable leader this offseason, and leading on-field workouts in late March/early April is an encouraging sign. But just like with any duo, it takes two.
This isn’t the first time Wallace has sat out a similar opportunity. Throughout the regular season, Wallace was a late-arrival to pregame warmups while Tannehill threw passes to Hartline hours before kickoff. It’s hard not to question if those extra reps didn’t manifest in Tannehill being more comfortable and confident throwing to Hartline than Wallace.
The calendar only reads April 2. There is plenty of time for Wallace to roll up his metaphorical sleeves and exemplify a strong work ethic. But not being present for these workouts at least raises some eyebrows and only increases the urgency that he needs to put in extra hours with Tannehill at some point.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.