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2016 South Side Questions: How Will Markus Wheaton Respond?

The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Question: How will Markus Wheaton respond from his rough regular-season debut against the Eagles?

I think we all understand by now that Markus Wheaton could not have had a much worse showing on Sunday after he missed the first two regular-season game due to injury. He was targeted five times and dropped three of the receptions, catching only one of them for two yards.

This is obviously a far cry from what we have seen him able to do in the past, most notably over the course of the final six games of the 2015 regular season, when he played a bigger role in the offense and seemed finally to not only be adjusted to working in the slot, but was developing an actual rapport with Ben Roethlisberger.

So we know, from a physical and functional standpoint, of course, that Wheaton can play much better than he did on Sunday. But we have also seen glimpses in the past of a player who may be susceptible to getting inside his own head too much and allowing that to affect his performance.

With Eli Rogers likely to be out, Wheaton is probably going to spend the bulk of his time working out of the slot again, which wasn’t really the plan heading into this season, but his own injuries issues allowed for opportunities for other players to be opened, and that seems to be where he most logically fits at the moment, relative to what others are able to do at the position.

It is important to keep in mind just how much time that he missed over the course of this offseason going all the way back to the spring, so perhaps his poor performance can be at least partially attributed to a need to get acclimated to playing in a game again.

The best idea is probably to get Wheaton involved early on a few short passes, providing him with some early positive plays that will contribute to establishing a rhythm for a player who has been out so long and who seems to need, or at least benefit more than most, from that type of structure.

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