Season Of Change – Wide Receiver Reboot

After two straight seasons of equivalent wins and losses, it’s certainly no surprise that the front office of the Pittsburgh Steelers has been busier and more active than usual in their efforts to reshape a middling roster into a true competitor.

The past few months could be fairly described as a season of change amid the shifting fates of a franchise that had just been to the Super Bowl three times in the very recent past. It may well be that past success that has helped drag them down of late.

Of course, selecting late in the draft annually doesn’t help, nor do the big contracts going out to the players that helped you reach that success. But the true death knell has been an unwillingness to recognize when to let go.

The Steelers had hoped to hold together that championship core for a while longer, but the last two seasons have been the wake-up call necessary to introduce the wave of change that we’ve seen this offseason, designed to steer the organization back in the right direction.

When wide receiver Mike Wallace departed in free agency a season ago, it left open a void that allowed those who had been waiting in the wings behind him to advance and make more significant contributions to the offense.

The result was the most total touchdowns caught by a Steelers wide receiver unit in the franchise’s history.

16 of those touchdowns came from the two receivers who perhaps benefitted most from Wallace’s departure, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery.

With Wallace gone, the then fourth-year pro Sanders got his first opportunity to be a regular starter in his career, and he turned in his best season yet, albeit somewhat modest by modern standards. Of particular note was the six touchdown passes he caught.

Cotchery, previously relegated to injury replacement time or the rare occasions that the Steelers used four receivers, finally got the opportunity to contribute regularly in the slot, and his rapport with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was quite evident.

Cotchery reeled in a career-high 10 touchdowns, a feat likely never achieved by a slot receiver with the Steelers before.

Now, both of those veterans are gone, finding more lucrative offers elsewhere during free agency, and some new faces will be trying to duplicate their production.

The Steelers signed veteran slot receiver Lance Moore in free agency, a player much like Cotchery in terms of experience and savvy, though he has neither the size nor blocking ability of the latter. Still, he has proven to be a reliable possession player over the years.

The bigger question mark comes in the starting lineup, with the Steelers turning to second-year former third-round draft pick Markus Wheaton.

Wheaton was limited during his rookie season for a myriad of reasons, and he was limited to just six catches as a result. He has less experience than either Wallace or Antonio Brown had when they took larger roles in their second seasons, but that’s all part of the spirit of change sweeping the facilities this offseason.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Kurt Williams

    I like this group, Wheaton is the X factor. According to Ryan Clark last year he’s a more polished receiver than Wallace. I hope he provides more production than Sanders. Moore will be steady, AB will be AB and anything from M. Bryant or the 5th wr (J. Brown) will be gravy.

  • srdan

    This is a new group, and because of that I am not expecting a whole lot early in the season. Munch and his group better be ready to carry this team especially through those first two games within 4 days.
    I think for the first time in a long while we can expect to have options in the redzone split out wide. We should all be excited about that.

  • steeltown

    Really feeling good about this group the more I think about it. Even the bottom guys like Bryant and J.Brown or even Moye bring something to the table, whether it be youth, size, speed. At this point, Bryant and Moye seem primarily like redzone targets given their size and in Bryants case his knowledge (or lack there of) in the offense. While J.Brown was not only given some reps with the 1’s but also lined up in multiple positions and reportedly looked good doing it. He’s my favorite to take that last spot. Cant wait for camp and preseason!

  • joed32

    Me too, only one more week to wait.

  • dgh57

    Anything north of 67 rec. for 740 yards will be tough for a somewhat unproven player to produce but at least we shouldn’t have to worry about Wheaton losing focus during games like Sanders did. (see Bears/Vikings game)

  • PA2AK

    It’s always tough…but it can be done…and then some for Wheaton. He knows the playbook and he has a good work ethic and a head on his shoulders. Heck Wallace had 750 yards his rookie year and he only knows how to run (can barely catch too)! albeit…he runs very fast.

  • ApexSteel

    I’m just hoping Martavis can be Wallace-like when it comes to his production early on. You need more than a few ( assuming Wheaton develops and Lance Moore returns to form) productive recievers to be a good team.

  • charles

    Mann should be given a lot of credit here. He got AB promoted to AllPro, Cotchery had the best year in his life as did Sanders. I have full confidence that if Archer makes the team, BigBen will have a LOT of targets. Sorry Steelers fans, but Wheaton AND Bryant have vestiges of Wallace, not in talent, but in attitude. Neither make one think of Hines Ward. Brown and Moye both seem to imply solid attitude and very good fundamentals. Right now, I think we can rely on Mann to keep the best possible contributors.

  • Jonny Panic

    What are you talking about? Every interview I’ve seen with Wheaton he’s seemed genuinely personable and humble, I’ve never heard a single concern with his character.

  • dgh57

    I see the upside and hope he exceeds expectation but he’s a third rounder thus in prove it mode with me.

  • I agreed with you until you compared Wheaton’s character to Wallaces, lol. Not even close. And we don’t know enough about Bryant to make that distinction.

  • I’d like to see one of these young guys catch the game winner as time expires like Wallace did his rookie year. Amazing game.

  • charles

    Your right about Bryant, he was a good gamble by Colbert. 50 years of watching football makes me think he is a long shot.
    Do you remember how AB came to camp his second season? He was extremely fit. I did not notice that with Wheaton. Your comment below your reply on Wallace tells you what a crap shoot it is. Wallace was field stretcher until free agency caused his game to fall. Also most of Wallace attitude should have been seen with his half a** attempt on Ben’s final throw against GB in that SB. On the little bit of film I have seen Wheaton, his middle of the field effort looked poor. Don’t get me wrong, I hope him and Bryant make the team and have probowl seasons. However I like both Moye and Brown’s work efforts thus far even though they are not as good of an athlete as Wheaton or Bryant.

  • good insight. I’d have to see the film on Wheaton dogging it to agree with that but I guess I can take your word for it. Guess none of that matters now though the new season is beginning and he’s going to have to prove it.

  • Anthony Tudi

    Probably the most entertaining regular season game I’ve ever seen

  • PA2AK

    Certainly a fair position to take…probably wiser than my expectations.