Steelers Should Rethink Decision To Use Rookie WR Markus Wheaton On Special Teams

If Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton isn\’t going to be a legitimate candidate to return punts in 2013, it really doesn\’t make much sense to have him playing on special teams. At least, that\’s my opinion.

Wheaton has said recently that he didn\’t play much on special teams during his time at Oregon State, so now is probably not a good time for him to start. At some point during his rookie season, Wheaton will be asked to take over the No. 3 wide receiver position from Jerricho Cotchery and that is where his entire focus should be at right now.

In the preseason opener Saturday night against the New York Giants, Wheaton played four snaps on special teams. While I haven\’t gone back through the game to check it, I assume that all four of those snaps came as an outside gunner on punt coverage. I know for a fact that was the case at least once, and it almost ended with linebacker Stevenson Sylvester having his knee blown out due to Wheaton flying into his legs, just as he was coming up from making the tackle.

I understand that Wheaton has the kind of speed most special team coordinators covet in an outside gunner, but I just don\’t see how the positives outweigh the negatives in a situation like his. Does anybody remember Mike Wallace working as a gunner during his rookie season? If he did, I don\’t remember it, and I bet he didn\’t do it for long if he did.

Being as the Steelers will likely only carry five wide receivers on their 53 man roster, that position should only be used on special teams if a player adds something in the way of returns. It\’s bad enough that it looks like Antonio Brown might be forced to return punts this season, so why have yet another one of those five running down the field five or six times again looking to get themselves into a car wreck?

  • Milliken Steeler

    I think Justin Brown will make this squad and he returned plenty of punts in college. The Steelers should try him there

  • TJimmy

    In the Wheaton interview on the Steeler site, he said he was pushed from behind and that is why he ran into Sly. Does the tape confirm this? If so we need to stop knocking him about something that wasnt necessarily his fault

  • walter mason

    Did Wallace ever tackle anybody in his career?

  • T R

    oh how i so agree with this.. I hope Danny reads this…

  • T R

    he was still going far to fast and was several steps away from a tackle that was already done. way before he got close.

  • TJimmy

    It looked like he was trying to regain his footing when flying in

  • Eric Grushkin

    If we didn’t have so many injuries at cornerback, we might not be talking about offensive players being Gunners. Terry Hawthorne is back in uniform this week.

  • Matt Searls

    I was thinking about this earlier. I’m sure When Curtis brown is back wheaton won’t be a gunner.

  • Matt Searls

    Yeah after a pick. I believe he did in the cowboys game last year

  • Christopher Wilkes

    I agree with you about Wheaton not playing special teams, but when AB returns a punt or two for a touchdown I don’t think anyone will be complaining about him being out there, as long as he’s not taunting the opposition on his way into the endzone. I understand the injury concern, but you gotta field the players that give you the best chance to win. Nobody wins the Super Bowl by playing it safe.

  • TJimmy

    I just watched the play again from the original angle. He was pushed by #39 on the Giants squad at 14:43 in the 2nd quarter.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I agree. lets move on. I do agree with Dave I would rather not have him on ST but whatever is best for the team

  • Tom

    I still can’t get that return against the Redskins out of my mind for several reasons. The immaturity on AB’s part….and the total lack of discipline (holding calls) on the special teams units.

  • westernsteel

    Why shouldn’t AB return kicks? He is probably the best on the roster in doing so. Could he get hurt returning kick? Ya. But he can get hurt as a WR too.

  • RedCarpetDefense

    Never quite understood the mentality of having offensive players (unlessof course as a returner) on any coverage special teams especially WRs. Its not in them mentally to fly down the field and tackle. I get it 53 man roster and all that but most of these guys are being asked to do something that they probably never did before and thats play special teams. 2nd and 3rd string LBs and DBs maybe throw in an athletic DL. Whatever spot is left put a backup TE or FB as another hammer in there.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I thought that initially, but I don’t believe Sash touched him. What happened is that he actually tripped over Shamarko Thomas, who was on the ground.

  • 2443scott

    dunn is the return guy …he should have been practiceing catching and running with ball from day one back in ota`s and all through out training camp he did it in college so thats what his job should been just like kicker they dont go out tackleing or recieveing or blocking for the off…..the steeler wr`s shouldnt be on special teams just cbs and lbers should be they know tackleing

  • TJimmy

    Markus himself said he was pushed. You can see the #39’s arms push him if you go frame by frame.

  • joed32

    Unless he has a great preseason as a return man he probably won’t make the 53.

  • steeltown


  • steeltown

    I agree.. we have a ton of guys this year that can work in kick coverage, from C.Brown to Sly (when healthy) to Willie Gay to DCSmith, Shark, Hawthorne, W.Johnson, Paulson, Golden, Jarvis, Victorian, Dwyer/Batch, A.Robinson, McFadden, Vince etc. etc. why use a guy that really has no experience not to mention will be needed to contribute offensively

  • WilliamSekinger

    I agree in principle only because it may mean an injury to a potential starter. That said, not playing your best people on STs has been the Achilles heal of the Steelers for years. They have lost countless games because of poor STs play. It’s time they bite the bullet, put the best guys out there, and see what happens.
    Putting 3rd stringers out there to play special teams just isn’t going to turn this thing around no matter who the coach is.

  • Showboogie

    Nah he ran a bad route and gave up on the play

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Because during a punt return, the ST assignment is (essentially) kill the man with the ball…and get a running start doing it. As a receiver, you’re most likely to get tackled by either the DB covering you or the safety. Hardly the same risks.

  • Randy Neff

    Hines Ward did it his rookie season and was quite good at it.

    Looking at gameday roster possibilities, Wheat might have to do it at some point in the season. Better get him ready to “put his hand in the pile” on coverages.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    I think you’re wrong. How many plays is he out there on offense vs. special teams? He’s way more likely to get injured playing WR. Good players know how to not take a hit, and I think AB is one of them. Sure, special teams can be pretty intense, but more so on kickoffs, not punt returns. But, I still think he’s more likely to be injured running a cross or slant over the middle and have his head taken off by a safety while he’s trying to catch the ball. At least he can call for a fair catch on a punt return lol.

  • steeltown

    That’s the whole point, Wheaton does not excel in coverage, he’s fast yes, but he’s not a very good special teams coverage guy

  • WilliamSekinger

    My point being, I’m amazed at how many fans say NO STARTERS on special teams! Put in the 2nd or 3rd stringers. Then midway through the season, those same fans complain that the STs suck.

  • steeltown

    I see your point, but at the same time I wouldnt want Polamalu or Clark or Woodley or Ike or C.Allen or Heath Miller or A.Brown etc on special teams coverage

  • Matt Searls

    All I was saying is that he tackled someone


    I look at this way…If he’s not going to be the 3rd WR, he should be on ST.

    ST imo is something that can be taught…he doesn’t excel at it I’m assuming b/c n college he was a starter and never played on ST much. As a rookie, I think any opportunity to get on the field, getting used to NFL game speed is experience gained.

    If his attitude is right towards it, he’ll be fine. If it’s not, maybe we didn’t get the right guy.