Markus Wheaton catching passes late in an effort to catch up

Justin K. Aller

Steelers rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton is catching passes after practice, and working to get himself up to speed after getting little team practice in this offseason.

Steelers rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton seems to get it.

AP writer Will Graves wrote a feature Saturday, highlighting Wheaton's efforts, by himself as everyone else had filed away to shower and eat, catching passes from a machine.

He's got some catching up to do.

While much can be made over an archaic rule that prevents rookies from practicing with their teams until their schools classes are let out for the summer, Wheaton still missed a lot of valuable learning time, as Oregon State wasn't done until mid-June, forcing him to miss all OTA sessions and minicamp.

Steelers right guard David DeCastro missed last year's pre-training camp practices as well, he found himself comfortably established in the starting lineup when preseason games began.

It's a blip on the radar of a player who says he's just trying to make the team.

Players who are just looking to earn a roster spot oftentimes are doing the same things as the best players in the game. Some of those things include taking as many extra reps as possible, and according to Graves, Wheaton is doing that and more.

He met face-to-face with (Steelers WRs coach Richard) Mann on Friday night, with the veteran coach giving Wheaton a series of things to work on before a walkthrough Saturday morning. In the span of a dozen hours, Mann could already see progress.

"He remembered it, just about everything," Mann said. "He wasn't perfect, but he was trying."

The work done late in the day in training camp leads to the ease of transition into the pro game for rookies, and the confidence of teams late in games. The Steelers were 3-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less last year, with three losses coming off late turnovers and game-winning field goals.

Not to suggest Wheaton's extra work can dictate those kinds of scenarios, but the more weapons the offense can use, the deeper the playbook can be utilized. That keeps players fresh, and defenses guessing.

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