Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers coach Richard Mann was forced to long distance tutor rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton over the course of the offseason due to the Oregon State product being unable to practice with the team because of the league graduation rules. According to Will Graves of the Associated Press, Wheaton was a great pupil as the Steelers third-round draft pick had a good first day of training camp practice on Saturday.
According to Graves, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told Wheaton he liked his urgency following a fingertip catch that took place during the seven-on-seven portion of practice.
Mann, who is in his first season with Steelers, is also impressed with his new receiver. Graves reports that both Mann and Wheaton spent time together Friday night to go over a few things for him to remember on Saturday and the results of that meeting were good.
"He remembered it, just about everything," Mann said. "He wasn\'t perfect, but he was trying."
When Wheaton was drafted back in April, a few scouts said they think he has the smarts and route running ability of Hines Ward and the speed of former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace. Wheaton said on Friday he hadn\'t heard that before and instead took the humble approach when he said all he\'s focused on is making the team out of training camp.
So what about that speed? Mann said he\'s not ready to say Wheaton is as fast as Wallace, but he did say he\'s "fast enough."
"Give me a guy like Markus that\'s got good speed, I can give him technique and fundamentals that get him over," Mann said. "You don\'t have to be a burner burner to have speed."
Now, we are only talking about one practice so far, but the kind of praise that an old coach such as Mann handed out on Saturday probably doesn\'t come easy. Mann is known for being a coach that insist on good technique, so there is a lot of teaching yet to be done with Wheaton as far as that goes and it\'s evident on his college tape.
Even quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had good things to say about the young wide receiver following Saturday\'s practice.
"He looked good. Obviously, at times, he looks like a rookie," said Roethlisberger. "There are some things that I try and help him with and that I know the receivers are helping him with. If I see something I try and talk to him about what I expect from him. I think he looked really good. I think he had his typical first day jitters, but I see a lot of promise in him."
When you go back and listen to all the interviews that Wheaton has done over the years, however, it\'s very easy to tell that he is a bright kid. With that being said, it\'s not surprising to hear that he\'s easily grasping the playbook, blocking assignments and route trees.
Wheaton likely has a ways to go before he unseats Jerricho Cotchery as the third wide receiver, but he shouldn\'t have any problem "burning" past Plaxico Burress during the preseason. At some point during the 2013 season, Wheaton will be the third wide receiver on the field and while that might not happen by the time the season opener rolls around, it\'s sure to happen by mid season. In other words, so far, so good.