Wallace emerging from obscurity

LATROBE – Through the first two weeks of training camp, rookie inside linebacker Rian Wallace impressed those people who watched tape of the Steelers' practices, and only those people.

"You don't see what we see," insiders would say to those of us who saw, well, nothing.

And in the first preseason game, after Wallace came nowhere close to stopping two touchdown runs up the gut, those insiders said the same thing: "You don't see what we see."

Finally, in the second preseason game, we all saw Wallace belt two Miami Dolphins so hard they fumbled. That's what scouts and coaches have been talking about: Rian Wallace, a fifth-round pick, is no Nathaniel Adibi.

Adibi was cut last year, breaking a string of 11 consecutive fifth-round picks who made the team as rookies. It appears that Wallace will begin a fresh streak.

"I played well. I ran to the ball and made a couple plays," said Wallace, who argued that he also played well in the preseason opener. "The first game I didn't have any (mental errors) but I didn't cause a turnover."

He caused two against the Dolphins, but had one taken away after – get this – tape review.

"They said the second guy had already started to fumble when I hit him," Wallace said.

But he hit him, and he hit him hard. Wallace is beginning to throw his body around and the boss is noticing.

"Rian Wallace has gotten better each game, probably gotten better every practice," said coach Bill Cowher. "He has continually gotten better and better."

Wallace – not to mention team insiders – felt he played well against the Philadelphia Eagles, but he was credited with only one tackle and an assist. Against the Dolphins, Wallace made three tackles, and two of them resulted in turnovers.

It's what Wallace did as a sophomore at Temple. Scouts say that had Wallace left school after that season instead of his junior season, the Steelers never would've been able to draft him so late.

"My sophomore year was better so a lot of people were scheming for me last year," he said. "I was plagued with injuries – hamstring and high ankle sprain – my junior year."

As a sophomore, Wallace made 148 tackles with 19.5 tackles for loss. As a junior, he made 101 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss. The difference in the two years is analogous to the difference in Wallace's first two preseason games with the Steelers.

"I was out there playing football this time," he said. "Most of it's clearing up for me. I'm learning from the vets. I watch how they play and I'm constantly in their ear. The running plays develop a lot differently in the NFL. They cut it back a lot."

Wallace plays behind Larry Foote as the Steelers' second-team mac linebacker, but he's taken his best advice from buck backer James Farrior, who told him to slow down, read his keys and let the play open up for him.

"He says to take one more read step before you start," Wallace said.

Back home in Pottsville, Pa., Wallace goes by the name "Goo". He likes it, and wishes it would catch on with his current teammates.

"With some people it has," he said. "Everybody doesn't really know me too much by ‘Goo' right now. And I'd rather keep it."

If he continues to throw his body around, Wallace will be able to keep more than his nickname.

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