DALLAS — There's no arguing that second-year Steelers WR Mike Wallace is a capable deep man. With speed to burn, he's proven capable of getting behind opposing defensive backs and making big plays.
Wallace led the AFC by gaining 21.0 yards per catch in 2010, which was second-best in the NFL. He led the league in receiving average as rookie last season. He had 26 receptions this season go for at least 20 yards, which is the most by a Steeler since Hall of Famer John Stallworth had 24 in 1984.
But the Steelers were not satisfied with Wallace's ability to just get deep, and head coach Mike Tomlin labeled his burgeoning star receiver as a "one-trick pony" early in the season.
Tomlin copped to the label being a motivational ploy on Wednesday when asked how many tricks Wallace now has up his sleeve after leading the Steelers with 60 receptions, 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.
"Oh, one and a half," Tomlin quipped in response to the question, clearly not wanting to give the youngster any reason to develop a big head. "You know, we as coaches, we'll pull anything out for motivational ploys. Mike understands that."
Then Tomlin sounded as if he would use his press-conference platform as another way to motivate Wallace.
"Mike has a physical distinguishing characteristic," Tomlin noted. "Of course he is capable of taking the top off the coverage. I was just trying to encourage him in my way to be a complete player. He has the desire to do that. He wants to be a great player. We all know that if he's going to do that, if he's going to have a chance to do that, it's going to be because he has a complete, well-rounded game. He plays with the ball. He plays without the ball. He can run a variety of routes. He's good in the run game, etc., etc. All of those are things that he's trying to develop, and he's doing a nice job of it this year."
Wallace admitted Wednesday that he isn't thrilled with the label.
"I don't like it. I never liked it. But I really don't care," Wallace told PFW. "I know it's all motivation. I just go out every week and try to prove him wrong and make him come up with a new name."
Wallace admitted he believes that Tomlin is an excellent motivator, knowing how to inspire players to work to get better without breaking them down. But he is still waiting for that new name.
"I mean, I've scored touchdowns and made plays in all types of different ways, every week when he said it, (but) he still gives me the same name," Wallace said. "I don't think it's going to change until at least next year."
Steelers WR coach Scottie Montgomery told PFW that Wallace has the ability to take his game to the next level if he continues to improve, noting that he wants the 24-year-old to become a "significant player."
"There's a little bit of a difference (between) great players and significant players," Montgomery said. "Significant players can win you a game every week. They can change the destiny of the team at times. And we do have some significant players on our team right now. And I think Mike (Tomlin) has done a great job of pushing certain buttons on certain guys."
Montgomery noted that since Wallace was challenged by the one-trick pony ploy, his production has increased and his ability to contribute in a number of ways has grown.
"Now Mike wants to score on a one-step slant or he wants to be a great blocker out on the edge," Montgomery said. "He wants to show people now to the point where he won't let us call him a one-trick pony because he's put a plethora of things on film, and on tape as we like to say, that will help him become a significant player, and go from being just a great player that (picks up) a lot of yards."
Like Tomlin, though, Montgomery is cautious about letting Wallace know how far he has come.
"We still give him a hard time, so don't tell him I said he's not a one-trick pony," Montgomery ordered.
Which trick does Wallace plan on pulling out on Super Bowl Sunday?
"Whichever one I need to do at the time," the Ole Miss product said. "I mean, I have a lot of them in my arsenal, so whatever one I need to do at the time, however the situation sets it up, that's the one I'll use."
Sunday just might be the best time for Wallace to make a case for deserving that new nickname.