Cody Wallace was one of the many players who filled the "next man up" for Mike Tomlin's Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2015-2016 NFL season.
He took over for Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers first round selection of the 2010 NFL draft that has been named to both the Pro Bowl and the AP All-Pro team four times each. Pouncey has earned the respect to be considered the best center in the NFL by many, and at least to be in the discussion for those who think there might be one or two players who are better at the position.
Those made for humongous shoes to be filled by Cody Wallace, an undrafted player who floated around practice squads and served as a backup for Pittsburgh back in 2013. He performed his duties adequately and proved useful throughout the past season on an offensive line that surrounded him with talent in David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Kelvin Beachum and Ramon Foster.
Wallace's play did not create a gaping hole in the roster that could have left Pittsburgh with a major problem. However this has led some to believe that his play was adequate enough to merit him a starting role in the Steelers' offense, and the opportunity for Pittsburgh to trade away Pouncey for draft picks, a skill position player on defense and free up more cap space.
This idea has merit to it, but devalues just how much of an impact Maurkice Pouncey can have on the Steelers' offense.
This will be a two-part article that will cover both the merits and limitations of having Wallace at the center position. If you have watched Pittsburgh long enough, would have noticed that he is a fiery competitor that can be overly aggressive against opponents whom he deems to be endangering himself or his teammates needlessly. Despite the penalties he sometimes draws, that can score him points with his teammates that might appreciate a lineman who wants to not just protect his players behind the line of scrimmage, but everywhere on the field.
What it does not overshadow is his lack of athleticism as he compares to Pouncey; and how Pittsburgh could focus a scheme around using Pouncey to work in space, while only not being able to use those same schemes at their most effective level with Wallace.
Holding call against Jamie Collins
This play is not to highlight Wallace being called for a penalty, as I did not think his actions warranted a proper holding call; instead it aims to show his ability to engage in the second level. Wallace gets his hands inside of the Patriots best linebacker in Jamie Collins and puts him on his back. These are things he can do when he has the opportunity to square up on an opponent and fulfill his assignment enough to make the play. Though he gets called for the hold here, he shows his ability to engage and take a key defender out of the equation.
DeAngelo Williams' First Down vs. New England
In the third quarter of the same game we highlighted above, we can see an example of one of Wallace's limitations. Here he is engaged with New England's defensive tackle, Sealver Siliga. On this play the Steelers use Heath Miller and David DeCastro to pull the weak side of the formation and plow the road for Williams. However the play is almost disrupted by Siliga who pushes Wallace deep into the backfield and provides Rob Ninkovich with a solid opportunity to have a one-on-one tackle against Williams for no gain.
While this play works out, it highlights how sometimes Wallace is taken advantage of by opposing defenses at the line of scrimmage and how he is not able to impose his will in the center of the line as consistently as Pouncey does.
Working in space vs. St. Louis Rams
Here we can see Wallace come off the line of scrimmage but fail to reach the middle linebacker at the second level of the defense. While he does not put himself in the best position to make this block, he also shows his inability to make blocks in space that the Steelers can normally expect of Pouncey. While being able to get on the left shoulder of his target and make this block would have been an excellent play, he fails to even get a hand or a bump on his assignment here. There are other instances when this can be shown too, which is why Pittsburgh does not rely on Wallace to pull into space and make crucial blocks in the whole nearly as much as they do with Maurkice Pouncey.
The second part of this article is coming soon, and it focuses on the role that Pouncey fills within the offense as well as the higher expectations and the importance it has in Pittsburgh's attack scheme.