The story of the Pittsburgh wide receivers of 2013 has been enveloped by the overtones of Mike Wallace's departure, the signing of Emmanuel Sanders and the selection of Oregon State wideout Markus Wheaton in the 3rd round of the NFL draft.
Despite the precursors, it will be up to the young receivers to set what tone will be remembered for this season. It wasn't long ago that Pittsburgh was presumed to have one of the deepest wide receiving corps in the NFL with Hines Ward, Antonio Brown, Emanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace leading the way. Since then, Ward's retirement and Wallace's departure have only left Brown, who is looking to rebound to get his second season with 1,000+ yards receiving, and Sanders is looking to eclipse 1,000 yards for the first time in his career.
Now that Brown and Sanders are the leaders on the depth chart at the position, the group has entered a new phase with Wheaton being part of the future. Not much could be observed of Wheaton because he had to miss organized team activities so he could graduate from Oregon St. It seemed reasonable to worry that this would set the rookie back when the Steelers needed another set of young legs that can maintain a group of three speedy receivers to split secondaries.
If Wheaton has shown anything this camp, it's that the learning curve that would supposedly slow him down is not keeping him out of the loop. Wide receivers coach Richard Mann announced yesterday that Wheaton has grown accustomed to the Steelers offense enough to not have that learning period that some were worried about. Wheaton has proven to know enough of the routes and the offense so that he is being instructed how to work routes more specifically, rather than just being told what the routes are.
This not only means that Wheaton will get more out of this camp because he came prepared, but it also offers an insight to the work ethic of the young wideout. Much was made of of his speed before camp, and that also seems to be garnering attention from fellow Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger described Wheaton's development thus far to be "great" and other Steelers have praise for the rookie as well.
Wheaton remains humble throughout camp and knows he still has a lot to learn. But there is something to be noted that he highlights one of his more significant adjustments to be the speed at which the offense is moving. Wheaton sees the speed at which Roethlisberger is delivering the ball in camp to be at a much faster pace than what he was used to in the NCAA. As the Steelers continue to increase the tempo of their offense, Wheaton's speed could become an assett if he can learn to keep up with Roethlisberger's quick release passes.
If nothing else can be appreciated from Wheaton, it's that he has taken the mandatory missing of organized team activities from being a potential liability to, at least temporarily, a non-issue.
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