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Steelers' Markus Wheaton wants heavenly repeat of late 2015 performance

PITTSBURGH -- After a curiously slow start to 2015, Markus Wheaton got comfortable in the final seven games with 28 catches and 476 yards, including a 201-yard performance at Seattle in Week 12.

Since the Pittsburgh Steelers suddenly need a No. 2 receiver after Martavis Bryant's suspension, Wheaton would "absolutely" like to rediscover the touch he had in Seattle for the early part of 2016.

"That would be heaven," Wheaton said.

That day, Antonio Brown was tussling with Richard Sherman, so Ben Roethlisberger kept looking Wheaton's way in the middle of the field. This was a true breakout game for the third-year player.

Despite the late-season spark, it's still difficult to ignore Wheaton's 14 catches and 255 yards through the first nine games last season.

For this offense to take flight, Wheaton needs to help.

Two primary factors contributed to Wheaton's lack of production early -- being new to the slot receiver position, and lack of chemistry with the revolving door of quarterbacks playing because of injury. The Steelers started Roethlisberger, Mike Vick and Landry Jones in the first two months, and Wheaton never looked comfortable until Roethlisberger returned from a knee injury in November.

Something to watch as the Steelers formalize their 2016 gameplan is Wheaton's positional flexibility. The Steelers might play Wheaton more outside, where he's most comfortable. He will still see some slot reps most likely. But Wheaton said Eli Rogers, a natural slot, is progressing well in organized team activities and Sammie Coates has played some reps at that spot.

Wheaton, who's entering a contract year, said he's "definitely excited" about possibly playing inside and out, though he stresses he's not sure what the plan is exactly.

"I was a little new to that inside spot and we have those big play guys on the outside," Wheaton said about last year. "Really it's about being on the same page with Ben and talking advantage of those opportunities when they come your way."

Wheaton can make a sizable jump if he utilizes his speed and quickness to make defenders miss for extra yards. The Steelers are counting on him to become a more complete receiver, and his experiment in the slot should help that process.

But while Wheaton is a reliable option, the Steelers aren't expecting anyone to duplicate Bryant's freakish size-and-speed combo. After Antonio Brown, the offense will spread the wealth.

"Just going to be a lot more involvement across the board," Wheaton said. "It's hard to replace him with one person, the yardage he put up."