Todd Haley Says Wide Receivers Don\’t Need Speed To Suceed In Steelers Offense

When wide receiver Mike Wallace signed with the Miami Dolphins this past offseason a lot has been made of the loss of his speed in the Pittsburgh Steelers offense as it relates to the deep passing game. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley was asked about that loss of speed on Tuesday following the first mandatory mini camp practice of the 2013 season, and he let it be known that speed isn\’t necessarily a need for a receiver to be successful in his system.

“I think we’ve got fast guys as it is. I think these other guys would probably be offended if you called them slow,” said Haley. “Mike, obviously, was a rare speed guy but I view AB [Antonio Brown] and Emmanuel [Sanders] and potentially some of these young guys as rare speed guys. If you look in the Hall of Fame there are not many sub-4.4 guys in there.

“I mentioned Keyshawn [Johnson], but Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, don’t tell them, but those guys had a hard time breaking 4.5. We’ve got plenty of speed so not a lot is going to change from that standpoint. We’re still going to use our players to their strengths as best we can and we just have to win more games.”

In Haley\’s first season as the offensive coordinator Steelers quarterbacks attempted only 8 fewer passes of 20 yards or more over the course of the season than they did in 2011, according to Pro Football Focus, and that was with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missing three and a half games due to being injured.

While those stats don\’t really reflect the Steelers offense being less vertical in 2012 in contrast to 2011, a difference can be seen in the yards per route stats over the course of the last four seasons. For example, prior to Haley arriving, Steelers wide receivers averaged 1.88 yards per route from 2009-2011. In 2012, however, the group averaged just 1.57 yards per route, which is a decrease of .31 yards per route.

Now, I want to stop right here as it is obvious that many receivers aren\’t as well-rounded as others, which means that some best fit some offensive passing attacks more so than others and in my opinion, this happened to be the case with Wallace. I know everyone is tired of the one-trick pony reference that head coach Mike Tomlin used in relation to Wallace over the years, but we saw last season that he is certainly more of a vertical receiver as opposed to a receiver like Larry Fitzgerald, who is effective in not only a vertical passing game, but a horizontal one as well. Face it, Wallace has been the Steelers worst route runner ever since he was drafted, but he fit the system used by former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians perfectly.

I\’m not knocking Wallace here, but once Arians was turned loose, and Haley was hired to replace him, either Haley needed to change his passing attack to be a little more vertical to better accommodate Wallace or Wallace needed to become a better route runner to accommodate Haley. Unfortunately, neither of those two things really happened. While Wallace nearly equaled the 72 receptions that he had in 2011, his completion rate dropped a whole 10% in one year. While everyone will point to his drops as being the main reason why, PFF has him dropping six passes in 2012 as opposed to five in 2011.

Yes, the Steelers do need a vertical threat in 2013 in order to keep defenses honest, and I suspect that Emmanuel Sanders will be that guy until rookie Markus Wheaton is ready to contribute on a full-time basis. Hopefully that is sooner than later. Wheaton not only has deep speed, albeit not that of Wallace, he is already twice the route runner that Wallace is and was.

As far as throwing the ball deep more in 2013 as opposed to 2012, Roethlisberger hinted on Tuesday that they likely will.

“I don’t know. We are going to have to wait to see what happens in game one. I don’t want to unveil any secrets yet,” said Roethlisberger.

  • TJimmy

    Haley said he wasn’t a system guy but that he tailored his offense to accomodate the strength of his players so their should not have been a system for Mike to adapt to. However it did turn out that way because he was being forced to adjust his game.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    you have to remember Wallace wasnt there for camp either to practice.

  • 2443scott

    as much as i liked wallaces going deep ..i also hated his route running when it called for a short 3rd down catch he couldnt be counted on so some one else was in line to get that pass ..and the def just sat there knowing this and was able to stop it …as todd was saying their isnt alot speed guys in hall of fame …and i am sure todd had to change his game play just to fit wallace into the plays ….so i am interested in to see how route runners and catchers make the steeler games diff from what wallace did …any way he in flor now and i am moving on with all that distraction he brought last year and partly the year before ….i want to see some these new rookies play more so quicker and not say well the other guys have more experience when what they did do wasnt any thing that stood out or they be playing full time .

  • fred songa

    No speed needed for 5 yard dink and dunk offense.
    Very true.

  • steeltown

    I think its funny once the previous #17 left for Miami everyone now assumes we have no speed and no “deep threat” Do people forget that E.Sanders and A.Brown both ran in the 4.4 range (official times) and they both have faster 40times than those, Sanders ran low 4.3 (unofficially) and A.Brown can get separation, he’s caught some very impressive deep balls so far in his short career, he just wasn’t asked to do it often because Wallace was the deep out. Now, we have another speedster in Wheaton…

    We have plenty of speed on this Team.. and the guys that remain are also better route runners and blockers (than the previous #17)

  • SteelersDepot

    There was indeed a system and Haleys route combinations over the years have been consistent with what he ran last year.

  • RMSteeler

    Excellent route running by receivers under 6’1″ with great hands and timing, can more than compensate for speed. Precise routes can actually provide more separation than straight line speed guys. Plus, the more consistent the receiver is in his routes gives the QB more confidence in timing throws. That’s why Hines was so great for so long. You can’t teach speed, and you can’t stretch short receivers. Tall receivers with great hands, body control and tough enough to take hits really don’t need great speed or great route running if they can high point the ball and have enough wingspan for the QB to drop a pass in a 10 foot circle. Ben has wanted one for years. Can Plaxico renew his skills at his age? We’ll probably know by the end of pre-season.

  • Pete

    I think the offense under Haley will be just fine. Nobody skipping camp and brooding over their contract. There’s plenty of speed but more than speed it’s smarts, hands, and quickness to get separation. Hines Ward never had speed. Look at Boldin and his catches down field. Not a very fast guy but very strong and he will catch the ball. Looking forward to it. The O line will dictate everything, passing and running. If the O line is good, everything will flow from there. The rest of the guys have the talent.

  • James

    Marty: “Hey Todd, your wide receivers don’t have enough speed to get down the field.”
    Haley: “Speed? Where we’re going, we don’t need speed.”

  • steves

    If the running game produces it will open the pass. Holding on to the ball is crucial also. Our turnover rate needs to be in our favor.