DALLAS – Hines Ward – soon to be all of 35 – stroked his whiskers and pondered the suggestion. Yes, he liked being called a mentor.
Donald Driver, who just turned 36, winced a bit before admitting that, yes, he liked it, too.
Pittsburgh’s Ward and Green Bay’s Driver, with a quarter-century in the NFL combined, no longer are the runaway receivers for their teams. No matter. There will be plenty of downfield dynamos around them when the Steelers and Packers meet in the Super Bowl.
“Sometimes you just have to accept your role,” Driver said. “This year we had a bunch of great receivers that were able to step up. I had an injury earlier in the year that kind of set me back, but I think our young guys stepped up and played well. … Those are the types of guys you want on the team, the ones that anytime one of the veteran guys go down, they step up.”
That would mean backups James Jones and Jordy Nelson. They complemented No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings and Driver so well that Green Bay had the fifth-best passing game in the league despite little balance and a third-string rookie getting much of the action at tight end.
Ward is surrounded by Mike Wallace, whose development in two NFL seasons has been “spectacular,” Ward said, and rookies Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.
“I just try to spread my knowledge to these guys about the game,” said Ward, the MVP of the 2006 Super Bowl. “The first Super Bowl, it was (Antwaan) Randle-El and myself. And the second Super Bowl, it was Santonio (Holmes) and myself. And now, playing in a third Super Bowl, it’s Mike Wallace.”
If the young players lean on the 13-year vet for guidance, Ward and the Steelers lean on them, too.
“With those guys, the more and more the season went on, the more and more they gained confidence and the more and more Ben (Roethlisberger) had confidence in them to make plays,” Ward said. “They just stepped up each time their number was called. There’s going to be a point in this game where not only myself, but the younger guys will have to step up big and make plays.”
Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Bruce Arians estimates Wallace can run a 4.1 40, but has to slow down to 4.3 to make cuts.
“He’s the fastest player in pads I’ve ever seen,” said Arians, who has coached for more than three decades.
Nelson believes all of Green Bay’s receivers are interchangeable.
“We rotate all around the field,” he said. “We try to keep everyone as fresh as possible. With our offense you know every position in the playbook … inside and outside, left and right. So you have to be on your toes with everything.”
As do the defenders in this Super Bowl – even against Ward and Driver.
“Yeah,” Ward said. “Don’t go to sleep on us.”
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