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Monday, April 7, 2014

Steelers counting on "significant step" from Markus Wheaton

By on 4/07/2014 01:45:00 PM

The Pittsburgh Steelers were prepared NFL free agency this year, just like the rest of the league.  Or so they thought.  They knew they would lose wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, yet didn't anticipate the loss of Jerricho Cotchery, and now a big chunk of their passing offense is missing.

Luckily Pittsburgh still has Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown, who is coming off a record-breaking season last year. According to Pro Football Talk, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is also calling on second-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton to step up his game. Last season as a rookie, Wheaton missed four games due to an injury to his finger.

Wheaton was drafted by the Steelers in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft, a 5'11" 182 pound receiver out of Oregon State.  During his four years in college, Wheaton was a multi-faceted athlete, playing the positions of wide receiver and running back, and was also utilized on special teams to return kickoffs and punts.  He accounted for a total of 3,771 yards and 21 touchdowns in his college career.

In Wheaton's rookie year for the Steelers, he was primarily a backup wide receiver but also was used as a kickoff return man.  In Week 4 of the 2013 season, during a September 29th 34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, Wheaton sustained a broken pinkie that required stitches.  Before the injury, he had just three catches on the season for 26 yards. All three catches came against the Vikings, the very game in which he sustained his injury.

Wheaton was hopeful to return quickly, but unfortunately the stitches stayed in longer than expected, as team doctors refused to take them out.  Wheaton missed a total of four games, and finished the 2013 season with six receptions for 64 yards.  He also returned two kickoffs for 37 yards.

A receiver's hands are extremely crucial. Broken fingers hinder an athlete's ability to be successful, cause fumbles and generally make a player uncomfortable. Head coach Mike Tomlin explained why Wheaton didn't play much in his rookie year:
It's tough to play wide receiver with broken fingers. I look forward to him taking a significant step for us. I know that we need him to.
Wheaton is penciled in as Pittsburgh's number two receiver for now, opposite Antonio Brown, and the Steelers are hoping he can be more productive this year.  With the signing of free agent wide receiver Lance Moore from the New Orleans Saints and the very real possibility they will take a tall wide receiver in the first or second round in the 2014 NFL Draft, Wheaton has his work cut out for him. 

Yet with the confidence of head coach Tomlin, a healthy Wheaton can and should be an extremely valuable player on the Steelers' roster.

On Twitter:  @alewnes7


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