Something doesn’t feel right about this.
In an interview with the Tribune-Review, Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton accepted the blame for not properly rehabilitating his right pinky finger after it was broken early last season in London
It’s been nine months since that game, yet Wheaton’s pinky finger is bent at an awkward angle, apparently because so much scar tissue built up inside that it can’t all be removed
So how did this happen?
Some background: Wheaton, the Steelers’ third-round pick in 2013, got his first extensive playing time in that Week 4 game against the Vikings, making three catches. But he also broke the pinky finger, an injury that would prove far more troublesome than he could have envisioned. After all, as Wheaton himself said, it was only his pinky finger.
However, Wheaton didn’t get back onto the field again until Week 11 against the Lions, when he made three more catches. But the finger continued to trouble him for the rest of the season – he didn’t make a catch from Weeks 12-17 – and he needed to have additional post-season surgery to attempt to remove the scar tissue
That surgery wasn’t entirely successful because all the scar tissue couldn’t be removed – a condition that might not improve for the rest of Wheaton’s career.
“They did it (the surgery),” he said, “But it was tougher (to get out) than they anticipated. It is what it is. I’m going to continue to work on it but, if it doesn’t come, it doesn’t come.
So far during the Steelers’ offseason workouts, there has been nothing to suggest there will be any career-altering aspects to the injury. Wheaton is currently running with the starters, and other offensive players like what they see – his route running is precise, his speed and sure hands are there
But even with Wheaton back to looking like the receiver who earned so much praise from the Steelers’ defensive players during camp last summer, it still isn’t clear how his finger became damaged
Here’s his explanation
“I broke it in a couple of places, my pinky, the third bone in a couple of places (in London),” he said. “I had a couple of screws in that went into the joint and I had two surgeries. But that’s in the past and it’s not bothering me now.
Still, that doesn’t explain why his finger didn’t heal properly, or why the post-season surgery couldn’t correct the problem.
“The surgeon did a great job, but the rehab, it was on me,” Wheaton said. “I should have been pushing it a lot more than I was, I got pretty complacent in where I was with my rehab, and thinking, `It’s just my pinkie,’ and not giving it as much time as it needed.”
Rather than doing exercises to strengthen the finger as it was mending, Wheaton was under the impression the finger was to remain immobilized and protected.
If that’s indeed what happened, it raises the question as to why no one who was treating him caught it and advised him what he should be doing. After all, this wasn’t a player who was hurt one Sunday and tried to play the next; Wheaton was out for more than a month, healing, after initially breaking the finger, and there was plenty of time to monitor how his recovery was going.
Injured players are watched closely by their teams, and it’s all but unheard of for an NFL player to go weeks without receiving the proper rehabilitation instructions.
Wheaton doesn’t want to get into all of that, saying of his badly bent finger, “It doesn’t affect me, not at all. I’m pretty much out there not even thinking about it, pretty naturally catching the ball.”
Even if he’s requiring only nine fingers to do so.
In fact, despite the loss of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery and what effectively was a lost rookie season for Wheaton, this has the looks of one of the Steelers’ best receiving corps during the Ben Roethlisberger era.
Tight end Heath Miller, his major knee injury now more than 17 months behind him, should be up and running from the start of the season, unlike last year. So should blocking tight end Matt Spaeth. Newly added receiver Lance Moore is a precision route runner who was one of Drew Brees’ favorite targets in New Orleans.
Darrius Heyward-Bey is one of the fastest receivers in the league and, if he can develop a connection with Roethlisberger, could be a dangerous, come-off-the-bench deep threat who complements the rest of the group. And fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant, who was projected to go higher, has the kind of size and speed that quarterbacks covet.
“There’s a lot of good receivers out here who are all competing for that one spot (vacated by Sanders),” Wheaton said. “Hopefully, I can take it.”