Mike Wallace is in the stretch run of his first season with the Minnesota Vikings and the season has been nothing like what he expected or what was expected of him when the Vikings traded for him in the offseason.
He has tried to remain upbeat about his lack of use in the deep game in the 2015 Vikings offense, which hasn’t been throwing long passes almost be design.
Despite Wallace saying earlier this week it can be “very difficult” to not get frustrated, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer appreciates the way Wallace is handling the situation.
“He’s been great. Really, honestly great,” Zimmer said. “I had him come in one day and we talked and I think he really likes it here. He’s really good friends with Teddy (Bridgewater). He’s got some frustration, wants the ball more like everybody would. He just works. He works hard and said to the coaches, ‘We’re winning. I’m happy about winning and I keep working.’ Last week he said, ‘This will be the week.’ I like the kid a lot.”
In his five previous seasons as a full-time starter, he has never caught less than 60 passes, had fewer than 836 yards or scored fewer than five touchdowns (he has had four seasons with eight or more TDs). With just three games left in the regular season, he is on pace for by far the worst statistical season of his career as a starter. He’s caught just 33 passes for 403 yards and two touchdowns.
He wishes things were different, but he’s accepting of his role in the Vikings offense.
“We’ve been winning and doing well, so you can’t complain,” Wallace said. “But I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of guys on every team that want to do a lot of things differently. I’m used to doing things different, but you go with the flow.”
The Vikings are one of the few teams in the NFL that is still built around a power running game. On teams like that the numbers for quarterbacks and receivers all tend to take a hit and the 2015 Vikings are no exception.
Wallace has taken the approach that, while the big numbers may not be there, the receiver corps has to be ready to make the most of finite number of chances they’re going to get.
“I think it’s a matter of opportunity,” Wallace said. “With Adrian on our team, we know we have the best running back in the league. We know that the opportunities are going to smaller and we have to make the most of them when they come.”
Even if Wallace, who is known for his speed, doesn’t have a lot of passes thrown his way, there is a benefit to having his deep routes be part of the offense.
“It occupies a lot of the guys as they’re going out of there,” Zimmer said. “Sometimes that safety is cheated to him. There’s a lot of things.”
While new to the Vikings-Bears rivalry, Wallace knows from experience in Pittsburgh and Miami that rivalry teams bring out the best and worst in players.
Sometimes a player just owns a team and other times they find ways to consistently shut them down. But as the week of preparation winds up against a division rival with whom there is a lot of familiarity, the stakes get amped up a bit and the memory sparks from the previous meetings.
“You get that a lot when you play teams twice a year,” Wallace said. “Somebody may have had a good game against you and you’ve got a little extra to get back at him. It works both ways. I didn’t have a good game against the Bears in the first game, so I really want to have big game on Sunday. When you face somebody twice a year, you think ‘I owe you’ from the first time.”
Although winter has been late coming to Minnesota, this week has provided the first blast of truly cold weather. The Vikings practiced inside with the doors open to get a feel for the weather, but not the harshest of the wind that was cutting its way across the Winter Park practice field Thursday.
Having played four years in Pittsburgh, where the conditions at open-ended Heinz Field can get pretty brutal in December and January, having temperatures in the 20s for practice with a game-time temp expected to be at or above freezing, he doesn’t have any problem with it … at least not yet.
“Actually, this is alright,” Wallace said. “I can deal with this for the most part. I don’t know about the night game (Dec. 27 against the Giants). I’ve been through this type of weather. It’s not as bad as it could be, but it’s cold though.”
If given his druthers, he would rather play in the sweltering heat of Miami in September, where the temperature and humidity can both close in on 100, than on a frozen tundra outdoors in Minneapolis or Green Bay in late December or January.
Asked which is easier, Wallace said it wasn’t even close.
“Miami in September,” Wallace said. “I can always take an I.V. I get an I.V. and I’d be cool. I’d be alright – most definitely ready to play in Miami. The heat, once you’re out there, you get used to it. When you’re cold, you’re cold. It’s kind of hard to warm up. When your hands are froze, it’ll make your mood change. You want the clock to start running. It’s time to get up out of here. When it’s hot, it’s exhausting, but it’s not as bad. When it’s cold, you want the clock to run and you want the game to be over.”
The Vikings still haven’t found a way to fully incorporate Wallace into the offensive scheme this year, but there is still opportunity – three regular season games down the stretch and the likelihood of playoff football once the 2015 season bleeds over into 2016.
“There’s still time,” Wallace said. “We have a lot of things we can do that we haven’t done yet. The goal is just to stay positive and keep winning. If we keep winning, that’s all that really matters in the long run.”