Prior to the Pittsburgh Steelers preseason opener against the New York Giants, I came into the game with two questions in mind regarding playing time for the wide receivers: namely, how early will Justin Brown play, and how long will Markus Wheaton play?
The latter is a second-year player who spent his rookie season on the practice squad but has been climbing the depth chart this summer. The former is also a second-year player with limited experience who is entering the starting lineup.
In Wheaton’s case, while he didn’t play every snap, he did play consistently throughout the entirety of the first half.
He began the game lining up across from Antonio Brown, and ended his stay on the field playing opposite Justin Brown.
Brown, meanwhile, received some early playing time on the Steelers’ second possession—though not with Ben Roethlisberger, who only played a single series—replacing Wheaton as an outside receiver and playing with Antonio Brown.
Interestingly, the Steelers began the game with two consecutive one-receiver sets, with the veteran Brown as the lone receiver. They went five wide on the third play, including Le’Veon Bell, Heath Miller, and Dri Archer.
After Wheaton’s end-around carry that was good for 10 yards, he came off the field for a breather, which gave Justin Brown the opportunity to get in some work as an outside receiver with Bruce Gradkowski in the game.
After that, all the remaining offensive starters exited the game. With the starters on the field, the offense ran a number of one-receiver sets with Antonio Brown on the field. On the first snap with the second-team offense, Justin Brown was the lone receiver.
On the next snap, the Steelers went to the 11 personnel with Wheaton and Derek Moye as the outside receivers, and Brown moving into the slot.
Brown remained in the slot for the majority of the remainder of his playing time in the first half when there were three receivers on the field, though that was not the case on Gradkowski’s sack, on which Wheaton played the slot.
To start the second half, Brown was the third receiver, with Moye and Martavis Bryant serving as the primary targets. He remained in the slot when the Steelers went to the 11 personnel for the majority of his second-half snaps.
Of the group of Brown, Moye, and Bryant, the 6’3” Brown is the munchkin of the group, but the real reason he played so much in the slot is to help prepare him for potential playing time during the season, where in select instances his height will be more advantageous than Lance Moore’s 5’9” frame.