Over the course of the past two days, Pittsburgh Steelers fourth-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton has been a full participant in practice, and seems to be on pace to return to the lineup after missing the team’s first two games of the regular season.
Wheaton, in fact, missed most of training camp, and only participated in the Steelers’ third preseason game. He has spent a lot of time off the field this offseason, and both he and the coaches have suggested that that factor contributed to his being inactive on Sunday despite the fact that he had some level of participation in practice on every day.
Wheaton “hadn’t practiced a lot”, offensive coordinator Todd Haley told reporters yesterday, “and I think that was the issue last week [for why he was inactive]. There was an extended period of time where he hadn’t been out there getting any reps. This week, he’s had a good week”.
While all seems well with regards to him being able to return and to contribute for the Steelers on Sunday against the Eagles, however, it doesn’t sound as though he is simply going to slip back into the starting lineup, which is where he has spent the majority of his time over the course of the past two seasons.
“I think all those guys know there’s still a real good competition going on”, Haley said when Wheaton was first brought up. “When you’ve got a lot of real good players, what I’ve told them all is ‘you’ve got to make it impossible for me to take you off the field.’ And you do that by making plays and doing what you’re supposed to do and making plays when your number’s called”.
The veteran offensive coordinator described it as “a healthy situation”, and said that the offense will “have a little something for all of them”, referring to the other wide receivers on the roster who have filled his role over the first two games, namely second-year receivers Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers as well as veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey.
“As soon as one of them stands head and shoulders above the rest, they’ll be out there more”, Haley said in summation of his thoughts. In other words, it sounds like we shouldn’t expect to see Wheaton a ton in Philadelphia, but rather a healthy mix of all of the wide receivers, though Heyward-Bey may find himself short-changed.
Haley has previously essentially indicated that Rogers is going to stay in the slot, which is where Wheaton worked a lot of the time in three-receiver sets last year, and where he likely would have been in that formation this year as well had he not been off the field so long.
But Rogers was able to seize that opportunity and had a strong first game, adding a third-down catch on Sunday as well. Coates has proven to be a big-play threat with three catches that have gone for at least 50 yards in the first two games. and Heyward-Bey is their best run blocker.
All of these receivers behind Antonio Brown would seem to have their respective roles, and they all do them well, but none are so complete that they can’t be taken off the field, as is the case for Brown, who has played all but two snaps. The Steelers will be having a lot of dogs fighting over a couple of bones on Sunday.