Steelers' Markus Wheaton set to break out

LATROBE, Pa. -- The wide receiver who debuted as a starter on the Pittsburgh Steelers' first depth chart of the season said he isn’t trying to impress anyone but himself.

Fortunately for the Steelers nobody is apparently harder on Markus Wheaton than Markus Wheaton.

That explains why he sometimes leaves his dorm room at St. Vincent College after the 11 p.m. ET bed check and slips downstairs at Rooney Hall so he can watch film.

“I’m always checking out my game and trying to figure out how I can get better,” Wheaton said.

Few things would help the Steelers’ passing game more than if Wheaton is appreciably better after a nagging finger injury limited him to 152 snaps last season and essentially made his rookie season a lost one on the field.

The issues with a broken pinkie that required several surgeries appear to be in Wheaton’s rear view mirror, and he has a clear path to the field with Emmanuel Sanders in Denver and Jerricho Cotchery in Carolina.

That Wheaton is No. 1 on the Steelers’ first depth chart at wide receiver is confirmation that the starting job is his to lose.

“I’m glad that they are pushing me to take that spot,” Wheaton said. “I obviously want that spot but there are a lot of good guys competing for that spot. There will be a lot of competition and a lot of growth from the competition. I’m looking for growth every day and I think with that growth I will prove that I can hold that spot down.”

Wheaton caught just six passes for 64 yards lost season. But he impressed Steelers wide receivers coach Richard Mann with the toughness he showed late in the season by playing through the finger injury.

And his desire to squeeze every ounce of his considerable physical ability has never been in question.

Wheaton attached himself to Cotchery last season, absorbing everything he could from the veteran wide receiver. He did the same during the offseason with Lance Moore, who was signed to replace Cotchery as the Steelers’ No. 3 wide receiver.

The work he puts in has not gone unnoticed by the person who matters most when it comes to what role Wheaton plays this season.

“He’s a detailed guy,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “I see him not only working out (on the field) before and after but into the evening. He’s just taking a really professional approach. I think he understands what we expect and what we need from him.”

Moore, who is second to Wheaton on the depth chart, expects a breakout season from the 2013 third-round draft pick.

“He’s definitely got all of the ability and speed and hands and runs good routes,” said Moore, who is entering his 10th NFL season. “He’s definitely going to be an emerging player. It’s a deeper [wide receivers] group than I think people would imagine because there’s a lot of guys that haven’t played as much ball but guys that are definitely capable. I’ve been around long enough and seen enough guys and I think we’ve got a pretty special group.”