Fourth-year Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton figures to make his 2015 regular-season debut this evening against the Eagles after sitting out most of the offseason with a variety of injuries. It had been a shoulder injury that has held him back since the third preseason game, but he went through a full week of practices and is not listed as questionable for the game.
He is just one of a number of players, however, waiting in the wings to return to the Steelers to bolster their efforts. Reinforcements remain on their way, with Wheaton representing the first wave as he solidifies an already very encouraging group of wide receivers who have stepped up in his absence.
Following this game, for starters, Pittsburgh is going to be getting back a first-team All-Pro in the form of running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell was limited to less than six full games during the 2015 season due to suspension and injury.
He is healed from his knee injury that caused him to miss the final eight games of the regular season plus the playoffs, but he is finishing off a three-game suspension, during which the Steelers have been able to go 2-0, and DeAngelo Williams leads the league in rushing, as well as the team in total touchdowns with three.
After Bell returns, we may next see fullback Roosevelt Nix back on board, whose contributions, I believe, should not be overlooked, because while the Steelers have by and large been successful running the ball—on a relatively high volume of carries—they have struggled with runs between the tackles with a lead blocker. Nix is their lead blocker, and will be a boost to the ground game.
After Nix should come the one we’ve all been waiting for, tight end Ladarius Green, who has yet to even go through a single walkthrough with the team after he was signed as a free agent in March coming off of offseason ankle surgery that has landed him on the Physically Unable to Perform List.
There was some optimism about his ability to contribute soon after he is eligible to be activated after six weeks, although you would have to think that he would be brought along gradually given that he is working with players he has never worked with before.
Not to be overlooked, the defense has a pair of players on the back end that they are hoping to see at some point this season as well. They are, in fact, the Steelers’ top two draft picks from a year ago, and one of them is a starter.
Outside linebacker Bud Dupree was forced to undergo surgery to repair a sports hernia shortly before the season, and he was placed on injured reserve, so whenever he does return, it will be in the second half of the season.
As for Senquez Golson at cornerback, the Steelers already have their top six defensive backs, but if he can come back from his Lisfranc foot injury—he is currently on the 53-man roster and simply inactive on game days—that would be a great boost to the defensive depth, and he may even get worked into the slot, where the Steelers in particular lack depth options. He was working there with the first-team defense when healthy.