One has to wonder what Markus Wheaton was thinking in 2014 as he watched rookie Martavis Bryant slowly move his way above him on the depth chart, to the point where in the Pittsburgh Steelers' playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens it was Bryant who was starting opposite Antonio Brown, not Wheaton.
It wasn't as if Wheaton was benched, but merely moved to the slot, a new position for him and one which he is preparing to own as the team prepares for the 2015 NFL season. "It only made sense," Markus Wheaton told Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "We will see how it goes," Wheaton said. "I am excited about doing something different."
Wheaton should be excited, not just because of something different, but because with the emergence of Bryant it will be his only chance to see significant playing time this season, barring injury. Wheaton possesses the skills to be a tremendous player from the slot. His speed, route running and elusiveness will make him more than just another threat as the third wide receiver to enter the game.
Wheaton's experience in 2014 from the slot was merely the tip of the iceberg in regards to what he is expected to do this upcoming season.
"The plays I had last year were customized for me," Wheaton said. "They made it out so I had some simple stuff. Being there full time, I am going to see a lot more."
"I wouldn't say that it is out of my comfort zone, but there are things I need to learn that are different from the outside," Wheaton said. "Being on the field last year, I learned a lot in terms of reading the defenses and seeing things. Moving me inside, I am still seeing a lot of the same things."
Wheaton is still a work in progress from the slot, and a play during the team's minicamp saw Wheaton read the defense incorrectly, which lead to a Ben Roethlisberger interception, but Roethlisberger put the play into perspective for Wheaton, "I am glad it happened now."
For Wheaton, he is slowly carving out his role within the team's offense, and if it is from the slot it doesn't mean he will be any less effective as the team's offense looks to remain a top unit in the NFL.
"It's not difficult, it is just understanding how to run your routes," Antonio Brown said. "He is super fast and quick, and that's what you need because you are facing that third corner or linebacker a lot. On third downs, nine times out of 10 that's where the ball is going to go. It's just about being on the same page with Ben (Roethlisberger)."
"Getting experience at any position will make you comfortable," Wheaton said, and experience is what he will get when the team reports to training camp Jul 25th with Wheaton penciled in as the starting slot receiver on the Steelers offense.