Wal­lace has found a place where he can be com­fort­able

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS WEEK­END - Jeff.zre­biec@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/jef­fzre­biec­sun

this team. We wanted Mike Wal­lace. I felt like that was my job to go up to him and make sure we squashed what we had. It was a re­ally big beef and we kind of squashed it. He ac­tu­ally turned out to be one of the great­est guys ever. We prob­a­bly hated each other be­cause we were so much alike.”

With seven catches for 132 yards and the team’s only three touch­downs, Wal­lace has given the Ravens, who are 2-0 head­ing into Sun­day’s road game against the win­less Jack­sonville Jaguars, the play-mak­ing abil­ity and speed that they lacked on the out­side last sea­son. The Ravens have given Wal­lace the type of of­fense he felt he needed to play in to bet­ter show­case his skill set, and the locker room en­vi­ron­ment he wanted af­ter rel­a­tively brief stays in Mi­ami and Min­nesota.

“I’ve been on a team with some great guys so far — a lot of parts, a lot of ca­ma­raderie with guys just hang­ing to­gether, putting it all on the line for each other, hav­ing each other’s back,” Wal­lace said. “That is what I wanted to be a part of.”

Af­ter Wal­lace fi­nally en­tered the Ravens’ locker room Wed­nes­day fol­low­ing a roughly 45-minute ses­sion with the Jugs ma­chine af­ter prac­tice, he was im­me­di­ately sur­rounded by re­porters. Wal­lace, a Pro Bowl player in Pitts­burgh, seemed al­most un­com­fort­able with the at­ten­tion. He im­me­di­ately shifted fo­cus from his three touch­downs — one more than he had all last sea­son with the Vik­ings — to the Ravens’ two wins.

Wal­lace might not be as fast or as ex­plo­sive as he was with the Steel­ers, for whom he av­er­aged 65 catches, 1,095 re­ceiv­ing yards and nearly nine touch­downs from 2010 to 2012. For­mer Cincin­nati Ben­gals wide re­ceiver Chad John­son once wrote that he was con­vinced Wal­lace was so fast he didn’t have ham­strings to slow him down.

How­ever, Wal­lace seems to have been hum­bled and hard­ened by ex­pe­ri­ence, from his as­cent to star­dom with the Steel­ers to his bit­ter de­par­ture from the or­ga­ni­za­tion af­ter the two sides failed to agree on a con­tract ex­ten­sion; from his trade out of Mi­ami af­ter just two sea­sons to his re­lease by the Vik­ings af­ter the least pro­duc­tive year of his ca­reer.

“I came in as a third-round pick. I got a lot of love once I started mak­ing plays. Then you don’t make a cou­ple plays, and it all turns around on you,” Wal­lace said. “I’ve seen the highs, and I’ve seen the lows, and I see how fast things can change on you. I don’t buy into any­thing any­more. You could be here to­day, and the next week you could be gone. I just take it for what it is worth, and I try to en­joy the mo­ment. Ev­ery sin­gle day I come to work, I en­joy it and try to have fun with my team­mates.”

Ravens safety Ken­drick Lewis sensed that Wal­lace, his for­mer team­mate at O. Perry Walker High in New Or­leans and Mis­sis­sippi, was look­ing for a place af­ter his re­lease from Min­nesota where he could get back to hav­ing fun and be­ing him­self again.

“When we were speak­ing about his de­ci­sion, he told me the things that he dealt with in Pitts­burgh, the things that he was deal­ing with in Mi­ami and Min­nesota, and I told him, ‘Man, this is a stand-up or­ga­ni­za­tion. You have a great quar­ter­back, you have a good de­fense. This is what you want to be sur­rounded by,’ ” Lewis said. “I was be­ing as bi­ased as I wanted to be, but I was just bru­tally hon­est: This was a great fit for him. As my brother, as my best friend, he took my ad­vice.”

Be­fore sign­ing a two-year, $11.5 mil­lion con­tract, Wal­lace spoke ex­ten­sively with Smith, who sold him on how the Ravens al­low play­ers to be them­selves. He also spent a lit­tle time with Flacco, whose strong right arm and will­ing­ness to take deep shots Wal­lace ad­mired from afar. Wal­lace hit it off with both im­me­di­ately.

“You saw it when Mike scored. He’s very ram­bunc­tious,” Smith said, al­lud­ing to Wal­lace’s cel­e­bra­tion af­ter his 66-yard touch­down in the reg­u­lar-sea­son opener against the Buf­falo Bills. “That’s right up my al­ley.”

Flacco fo­cused pri­mar­ily on what Wal­lace has meant to the of­fense. In two of his three touch­downs, Wal­lace was able to get be­hind the de­fense. On the other, he beat Cleve­land Browns star cor­ner­back Joe Haden on a slant to make a 7-yard catch.

“I al­ways try to say when you have good play­ers, it is not that hard to make con­nec­tions like that,” Flacco said. “That is what it comes down to — the fact that you can see how tal­ented of a player he is.”

What Ravens fans haven’t seen is the amount of time Wal­lace spends each day in prac­tice work­ing with young re­ceivers Bre­shad Per­ri­man and Chris Moore. Af­ter the two-hour prac­tice each day, Wal­lace leads the group over to the Jugs ma­chine, where they catch balls for nearly 45 min­utes.

“From the first day I met him, he’s al­ways been there to help me,” said Moore, a rookie fourth-round pick. “Ev­ery day I ask him ques­tions and he tells me what to do. He makes me get in that ex­tra work, which ev­ery rookie needs. It’s great to learn those work habits from a vet­eran like him.”

Webb, whose locker is a cou­ple down from Wal­lace’s, can’t re­mem­ber ex­actly how their feud started. It cer­tainly es­ca­lated when be­fore a Ravens-Steel­ers game in Novem­ber 2011, Webb sug­gested that An­to­nio Brown, not Wal­lace, was Pitts­burgh’s big­gest out­side threat. In his re­tort to Steel­ers re­porters, Wal­lace said, “Who is that guy? I mean, I heard of him, but at the end of the day, he can’t check me, so it is what it is.”

Nearly five years later, and af­ter the vic­tory over the Bills, Wal­lace cred­ited Webb with bury­ing the past and em­brac­ing him as a team­mate.

Webb is warm­ing to the play­maker on the other side of the ball, too.

“I en­joyed our bat­tles. He won some, I won some. I think we both came out bet­ter peo­ple and play­ers at the end,” Webb said. “We just talked, squashed it and we moved on. Even though he was a Steeler way back, he fits so good with his team — his per­son­al­ity, who he is — and with the of­fense.”

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Mike Wal­lace, fight­ing off the Browns’ Tra­mon Wil­liams Sr. on Sun­day, said this week, “I’ve been on a team with some great guys so far. ... That is what I wanted to be a part of.”

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