With the defensive rookies for the Pittsburgh Steelers uncharacteristically emerging into more prominent roles, it begs the question: when will the offensive rookies finally have their say this year?
The Steelers went offense back to back in the second and third rounds at premium positions in the 2013 draft, selecting running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Markus Wheaton, respectively. But neither have been able to crack the stats sheet as of yet.
Bell, of course, has mitigating circumstances, as he is continuing to nurse his way back from a Lisfranc injury in his right foot. He was limited to just four carries in the second preseason game before the injury occurred, partially due to him being cautious with a knee injury that forced him to miss the first preseason game.
However, he has now gone through back to back practices as a ‘full’ participant (though as Mike Prisuta mentioned on Steelers Live, ‘full’ in this context is very much in the eye of the beholder).
He is officially listed as questionable on the injury report, suggesting that he is essentially a toss-up to play, but the general consensus seems to be that he will be given another week of work in practice before head coach Mike Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers staff are ready to trot him out onto the field in a game.
On the other hand, Tomlin’s recent comments have certainly given strong indications that Markus Wheaton is quite on the verge of making an impact on offense following two consecutive losses to start the season.
Asked following the team’s Monday night loss to the Cincinnati Bengals if Wheaton is going to be a part of the “answers…in [the locker] room”, Tomlin said, simply, “he will be”.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was also recently asked about his newest toy, and he spoke highly of him:
He is doing great. He’s a smart guy. He has a good understanding of the offense. He doesn’t really make mistakes. If he makes mistakes, it’s not really running the wrong route. It’s more depth here and there, or what we call giving too much flavor at the top of routes, trying to shake too many guys like he is in college. For me, he is more than ready to get in and start doing some stuff for us.
Wheaton is a quiet, unassuming young man, so it helps that his locker is right next to his quarterback’s, whose brain he says that he picks all the time, as they work to build a rapport both on and off the field. Will we see that relationship bear fruit this Sunday? Right now, that is anybody’s guess.