Wheaton has big chance with Steelers

Oregon State product struggled through injuries

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LATROBE, Pa. — Markus Wheaton realizes the pressure is there, but he does not mind.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ second-year wide receiver figures to be the best shot to replace departed starter Emmanuel Sanders, so Wheaton is OK with the early elevated expectations despite a bumpy rookie year in which he struggled to stay healthy.

“I feed off the pressure and embrace it,” Wheaton said. “Pressure is always good, I feel. Pressure can push you to get a lot better, or it can break you. I feel that the pressure is always good for me because it always pushes me to get better.”

The rejuvenated Wheaton welcomed the start of training camp after a lost rookie season that resulted in two broken fingers and just six receptions for 64 yards.

“It was frustrating not being able to progress like you want to progress,” Wheaton said. “Having a setback, it feels like you’re starting over a little bit.”

Wheaton is indeed starting over, but that might not be a bad thing. He has full mobility of his pinkie finger, which required minor surgery, and said he is healthy.

Wheaton, a third-round pick out of Oregon State in 2013, also went through full offseason workouts for the first time and feels comfortable entering his second training camp.

“I’m just more relaxed,” Wheaton said. “I can go out there and play whereas last year I was thinking a lot. I feel like when you’re thinking you can’t play at the speed you want to play at.”

He’s working on his relationship with Ben Roethlisberger too, joining his quarterback and a group of teammates in California during the spring.

The extra work already appears to be paying off as Roethlisberger floated a deep pass down the left sideline during practice on Sunday and Wheaton sprinted between two defenders to track it down. Roethlisberger expects more of the same this season.

“I’ve put a lot on him,” Roethlisberger said. “The expectation level is high. He was doing some really good things last year until he got hurt and kind of lost some confidence, I think, in himself — but he’s got it back.”

And he has an opportunity to turn that confidence into significant playing time.

Sanders left for Denver.

Jerricho Cotchery, an 11-year veteran, quickly followed suit to Carolina.

The Steelers brought in Lance Moore, who spent his first eight seasons in New Orleans, and speedy six-year veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey. They also used a fourth-round draft pick on 6-foot-4 Martavis Bryant, who starred at Clemson.

Wheaton looks to have the early inside edge on the starting job, lining up with the first team throughout organized team activities and minicamp, but he is still motivated to earn his spot.

“Whether you’re a veteran that’s been here for a long time, or you’re an undrafted free agent, you still have something to prove,” Wheaton said. “You still have a lot to prove to hold onto your spot or to get a spot.”

Wheaton said it does not matter where he plays. He learned intricacies of the outside and the slot and is OK with no matter where he lines up as long as he’s healthy.

“I just want to be on the field and make plays for my team,” Wheaton said.