It was not too far from a year ago that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton made the most of the team’s late-season bye week to catapult himself into a career performance the following week, and proceeded to ride a pretty steady string of performances to round out the regular season schedule, turning in a pretty nice season heading into his contract year.
Almost a year later, Wheaton is hoping to take advantage of the same opportunity of using the bye week as a springboard for getting his season on track, only this year it seems as though the hill is much steeper to climb this time around. In fact, he has struggled just to even get on the field.
Since suffering a shoulder injury in the Steelers’ third preseason game—which was the only preseason game that he participated in—it has been an ingoing issue for Wheaton, which has seen him bounce in and out of the lineup.
The fourth-year wide receiver initially declared that he would be ready for the season opener. When that did not come to pass, it was assumed that he would be back for the second game. After he failed to play a week later, Wheaton said that he was healthy, but that he was held out due to a lack of practice reps.
After participating in the following three games and contributing a whopping four receptions for 51 yards, 30 of which came on his lone touchdown reception, he has sat out the last two games heading into the bye week, once again due to complications stemming from the shoulder injury that he suffered in the preseason.
But he is expected to make his return to the lineup following the bye week, which will have given him four weeks off since the last time that he took the field with the team, anticipated, it seems, to be long enough to get him back up and running after his contract year has started out almost as badly as one could imagine—including three drops in his first game of the season.
Wheaton posted his best season last year, catching 44 passes for 749 yards and five touchdowns, with most of that production coming in the final six games of the season. An overall improvement in team health, as well as a greater refinement of his role in the offense at that time, helped him have more opportunities, and make better use of them.
Even with the absence of Martavis Bryant, however, it’s not clear how many opportunities he will have once the Steelers get back to football. Eli Rogers has become the team’s new slot receiver, even if the coaching staff sat him last week for disciplinary reasons.
Sammie Coates got his second season off to a hot start, but he has been a virtual non-factor over the course of the past two weeks as he tries to figure out how to play through a fractured finger. The bye week should do him good as well, but it remains unclear how big a role he will be able to play, which could mean more split reps with Wheaton.