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Steelers WR Wheaton is over his bad break

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Markus Wheaton makes a catch during organized team activities Tuesday, May 27, 2014, on the South Side.
By Alan Robinson
Tuesday, May 27, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

Markus Wheaton's right hand is not a pretty sight. The pinky finger is bent at a grotesque angle, and he cannot fully straighten it to catch passes.

“It looks horrible, but it feels real good,” Wheaton said Tuesday as the Steelers began their full-scale offseason workouts on the South Side. “I'm pretty much out there not even thinking about it.”

Especially given how he would rather not think at all about a rookie season that was filled with bad breaks — in every sense of the term.

Wheaton, a third-round pick from Oregon State, was so impressive during training camp that safety Ryan Clark proclaimed him superior to Mike Wallace in every aspect except speed. But it quickly became a lost season for Wheaton after he broke the pinky finger while making three catches during the Week 4 loss to Minnesota in London.

He needed five weeks after surgery to get better –—as it turned out, he didn't fully heal — and he didn't contribute again until he caught three passes against Detroit in Week 11.

He didn't catch another pass the rest of the season, and the Steelers said he also broke a finger in Week 16 at Green Bay.

Wheaton underwent minor surgery after the season, but the scar tissue that had built up inside the broken pinky couldn't be removed completely.

“It was tougher than they anticipated,” Wheaton said.

As a result, a player the Steelers envision as a starter this season — he ran with the first unit Tuesday — might have to play the rest of his career with a badly misshapen finger.

“I'm going to continue to work on it, but if it doesn't come, it doesn't come,” he said.

During his post-London layoff, there was a miscommunication of sorts, and Wheaton said he thought he was supposed to keep his finger immobilized. In retrospect, he should have been exercising it, he said, to keep the scar tissue from building up.

Wheaton doesn't blame anyone involved in the operation or his recovery except himself.

“The surgeon did a great job, but the rehab, it was on me. I should have been pushing it a lot more than I was,” he said. “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 (to heal) as it needed.”

Regardless, Wheaton said he doesn't believe the setback will affect his career.

“I can still catch. I can still block,” he said.

Ben Roethlisberger expects to see the player Steelers veterans raved about at training camp a year ago, when Wheaton impressed them with his speed, route-running and ability to grasp a lot of complex information in a short period of time.

“He's a competitor,” Roethlisberger said. “He's a guy that wants to prove that he can be out here and that he can be a starter.”

Even after such an ominous start.

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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