Wheaton continues honing his craft

At OTAs a year ago, it was all about yards after the catch for Markus Wheaton. Whenever a play unfolded that would have resulted in ground being gained after the ball had been received, head coach Mike Tomlin voiced his approval. And when it didn't happen, Tomlin let Wheaton know about that, too.

There's a similar emphasis this year, but with a twist.

The Steelers participate in Day 5 of the 2016 Organized Team Activities at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

"Stepping out of hand-tackles or arm-tackles," Wheaton confirmed. "Out here (in OTAs), it's jersey-pulling. There was a play early in camp where we were doing 'Seven Shots' in the red zone and there was a slight jersey pull that kept me from catching the ball.

"Ever since then he's been on me about it."

It's all about continuing to develop for Wheaton, a former third-round pick in 2013 who's getting ready for his fourth season with the Steelers.

"It's just about stepping out of those minor things that could keep us from, in that case, scoring a touchdown," Wheaton continued. "It's all strength, hand-fighting. It depends on the situation. Nobody's perfect, we always have something we can get better at.

"Strength is something we're always continually working on throughout the season, throughout the offseason mainly. And then hand-fighting, that comes out here, we work on it a lot. When we don't have pads on there's a lot of hand-fighting so you emphasize it a little more, definitely work on it out here."

Wheaton saw his receptions drop from 53 in 2014 to 44 last season. But he also registered career-high totals in receiving yards (749, up from 644), average per catch (17.0, up from 12.0) and receiving TDs (five; Wheaton had a combined two in his first two seasons, both in 2014).

Playing last season on an offense that also included wide receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant and tight end Heath Miller, Wheaton had to learn to produce despite not often being identified as the No. 1 option.

He'll need to do so this season, as well.

"It's tough," he said. "It's been frustrating at times but it's part of the game. I love the game. I love being out here with the guys we do have. We wish we could have Martavis with us, but we have a good bunch of guys and I love seeing other guys succeed and thrive and that's been the case the last couple of years.
"I'm not selfish at all. I want to help out but if it doesn't come, it doesn't come."

The ball might come Wheaton's way more often, he maintained, if he can more consistently provide what quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is asking on a given snap.

"Being on the same page with Ben is the key for me," Wheaton said. "Last year it was tough because I was a little new to that inside (slot) spot and we had those big-play guys on the outside.

"It's really about being on the same page with Ben and taking advantage of those few opportunities that do come your way."

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