Markus Wheaton just wants to make the team … yes, he did say that.
That sounds a little bit of unconventional thinking knowing that the Steelers used a third-round pick on the speedy and rugged wide receiver out of Oregon State to ease the pain of losing Mike Wallace to free agency during the offseason, but that’s where Wheaton’s mentality is heading into his first NFL practice Saturday that includes more than fellow rookies.
“Making the team is the first goal. I am going to have to do that first,” Wheaton said when he arrived at St. Vincent College for training camp on Friday.
Wheaton hasn’t been around the Steelers since being drafted in late April other than a brief two-day rookie camp in early May. Wheaton wasn’t permitted to attend any OTAs or minicamps because of the quarter system that’s used at Oregon State.
Mike Tomlin said a few months back that he believes Wheaton can catch up quickly, and so does the 5-foot-11, 182-pounder
“Yeah, I think so,” Wheaton said. “For me, it is pretty much just learning some of the no huddle stuff and the little stuff like that. It is just learning the plays and I think I am pretty much caught up with that. I wasn’t able to get in there with some of the vets so I think that’s all I need to catch up with.”
Catching up will most definitely include trying to build some rapport with Ben Roethlisberger, who he has yet to take a throw from.
“I think that takes time with any quarterback and receiver so we will see how it goes,” Wheaton said.
The Steelers might need Wheaton to step up rather quickly … maybe more quickly than comfortable.
The Steelers really don’t have much depth behind top two receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Jerricho Cotchery is penciled in as the No. 3 receiver with Plaxico Burress hovering around the spot as well.
Now, Cotchery is more than capable of holding down the No. 3 receiver spot, but if Wheaton is anywhere close to who people are comparing him to (Hines Ward and Wallace), then he could be a difference-maker right away.
“I couldn’t even tell you (about being compared to Ward and Wallace) because I have never played in this league before,” Wheaton said. “I guess we will see.”
Wheaton, who caught 91 passes for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior last year, has speed to burn even though he ran a disappointing 4.45 40-yard dash at the Combine in February, but says he can, and has, ran a 4.3 before.
Wheaton knows that others – coaches and teammates — want to see what he’s all about.
“I am pretty sure everybody is curious to see what I have,” Wheaton said.
Now, if he could only make the team.