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Steelers rookie receiver Wheaton proving to be a 'quick' study

| Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, 8:36 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Markus Wheaton pulls in a catch during practice Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, at St. Vincent.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Markus Wheaton gets off the line during practice Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, at St. Vincent.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers rookie receiver Markus Wheaton (left) talks with Ben Roethlisberger during practice Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, at St. Vincent.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Markus Wheaton reaches out to make a catch during practice Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, at St. Vincent.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Markus Wheaton participates in drills Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, at St. Vincent.

Perhaps it's no surprise that a player with 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash didn't need much time to catch up with everyone else at training camp.

Wide receiver Markus Wheaton couldn't take part in the Steelers' spring practices because alma mater Oregon State was holding class Since he arrived at camp, though, everything has been a blur.

Especially the player wearing No. 11, one who is expected to ramp up the Steelers' overall team speed much like Mike Wallace did the last four seasons.

“He's going to be in a group with the fastest (NFL receivers),” wide receivers coach Richard Mann said Monday. “I don't know if he's going to be the fastest, but he'll be there. And what I like is he's got that quick twitch.”

Quick twitch isn't a football phrase but a medical term that refers to muscle fiber that contracts rapidly, especially during actions that require maximum effort for short periods. Such as running a 50-yard pass pattern rapidly. Such as running it the way Wheaton does.

Wheaton already has made some impressive catches during camp — he's working mostly as the slot receiver, or the No. 3 receiver — despite missing those May and June workouts.

“This kid is a smart guy who has made up a lot of the gap,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “At the time, I felt he was way behind. Now that he's here, I think he's done a great job with Coach Mann of getting up to speed so he can compete.”

Mann talked often with Wheaton, teaching him via long distance the basics of the Steelers' offense.

“I just think he's a smart kid,” Mann said. “He came here and did what he had to do to catch up. We're in the process of him learning how to do it as opposed to telling him how to do it.”

What Wheaton already has shown in a relatively brief time is that he could be an impact receiver immediately — though perhaps not to the extent that Wallace and Antonio Brown were as rookies. Both he and running back Le'Veon Bell could play major roles in what figures to be one of the Steelers' youngest offenses in several seasons.

“I've seen players come in and play good the first year, and it will be a work in progress,” Mann said. “Every game will be a learning experience, something new, but he's a smart guy, and he retains. There's no doubt in my mind that in the very near future he will be productive.”

Like in September, perhaps?

“He's really quick, a guy who can really catch the ball,” Brown said.

QB Ben Roethlisberger said, “He is doing a great job,” putting an emphasis on “great.”

“I still have a lot to learn, but I feel like I'm settled in,” Wheaton said. “When you get here, there are guys who have done it for a long time, and their technique is much better, and I have to catch up in that area.”

Coach Mike Tomlin is praising his route-running skills and ability to learn quickly without going on the field and making mistakes.

“But I have to get used to the speed of the game; I have to get used to how quick the ball's on me out here,” Wheaton said, referring to how rapidly Roethlisberger gets rid of the ball.

Even without Wallace, Mann — out of coaching for three years before being hired by Tomlin — is excited by a receivers group that includes Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and veterans Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery. Cotchery and Wheaton are competing at the slot receiver's spot.

“I like my guys, and I've started growing them a bit,” said Mann, a native of Aliquippa. “I like what I've seen seen so far. As a matter of fact, I love what I've seen so far. I've got a couple of guys I think can play. I'll put my little spin, my little flavor on them, and we'll see what we've got.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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