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Wheaton works to win a spot

Posted Jun 5, 2014

The Steelers have an opening for a starting wide receiver opposite Antonio Brown

Markus Wheaton did his best not to publicly read too much into how the wide receivers were being deployed at the outset of OTAs, but even then his ambition was showing.

“There are a lot of us chasing that spot,” Wheaton said of the starting wide receiver position opposite Antonio Brown. “There’s a lot of competition, a lot of good competition. Obviously it’s not mine yet, or, not mine.”

There indeed is a lot of competition for the spot opposite the Steelers’ Pro Bowl receiver, but as a former third-round pick in 2013 who lit up training camp because of his ability to grasp the offense quickly and make plays while doing so … well, it’s safe to assume there is some expectation that Wheaton should win the competition.

His rookie season was derailed by a pinky injury that turned out to be a lot more serious than initially anticipated, one that included multiple fractures and required multiple surgeries to repair. That had a lot to do with Wheaton catching just six passes for 64 yards while appearing in 12 of 16 games.

As Coach Mike Tomlin observed, “It’s tough to play wide receiver with broken fingers.”

But that’s not to suggest Wheaton’s rookie season was a waste. In fact, he makes the case that it was beneficial in preparing him to perhaps embrace a much more significant role this time around.

“I learned a lot,” Wheaton insisted. “Coverages, a lot of the adjustments that (quarterback) Ben (Roethlisberger) throws at us. The playbook. Being able to sit out last year, pretty much, helped me, I think.”

So did his locker room address at the Steelers’ practice facility. Wheaton and Roethlisberger were next-door neighbors.

“I was always picking his brain,” Wheaton said. “Any time I have a question, I don’t have to go too far to ask. It makes it easy on me.”

Wheaton and Roethlisberger continued working on the necessary quarterback-wide receiver rapport when they spent a week working out together in California in advance of OTAs.

“I wanted to take the three younger guys out there,” Roethlisberger explained. “Obviously, I offered it to everybody but most importantly it was him, Derek (Moye) and Justin (Brown), just to work with them and get a feel and try to get an early start.”

Now it’s time for Wheaton, among others, to begin showing the Steelers he’s capable of making a big jump in terms of what he’s able to contribute this season.

“He’s a competitor,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s a guy who wants to prove he can be out here and that he can be a starter. I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Wheaton wouldn’t go as far as to say the Steelers are depending on him specifically to complete such a transition. But he’s well aware of the void created by the departure of Emmanuel Sanders via free agency, and the subsequent opportunity waiting to be realized by someone at the position.

“I’m definitely chasing that spot,” Wheaton said. “Hopefully, I can take it. There are a lot of us chasing that spot. Hopefully I can get it first, and then go on from there.”

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