Special Teams Plus Spot Duty on Offense/Defense
Markus Wheaton, Shamarko Thomas
Due to Wheaton’s ability to play flanker, split end, and in the slot, he could very well find his way onto the field in three and four wide receiver packages early this year. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders might be entrenched as #1 and #2 on the depth chart, but I believe that the skinny pass-catcher (5’11” 182 lbs.) has the tools to be a solid compliment to both pass-catchers as early as his rookie season.
While most Pac-12 fans were creaming their pants over players like Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and Keenan Allen over the last few seasons, Wheaton quietly emerged as one of the pass-happy conference’s most complete wide receivers. The former Oregon State Beaver racked up 91 catches for 1,244 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and his speed and route-running ability should instantly put him in the running for the #3 spot on Pittsburgh’s depth chart. Plus, it also does not hurt that he can also chip in as a kickoff or punt returner if he is called upon to do so as well.
I am probably a bit more excited than most fans about the addition of Wheaton, especially since most people east of the Mississippi River were already in bed or had tuned out when Wheaton was tore up his Pac-12 competition over the last few years. Yet trust me when I say that he has the potential to be a vertical and horizontal field-stretcher for the Steelers.
In addition to Wheaton, I am also a big fan of safety Shamarko “Shark” Thomas. The 4th round pick has a great deal of positional versatility, and I believe that it will lead to him being inserted in some sub-package situations by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau in instances this fall.
An aggressive player with an on-field attitude to match, Thomas is at his best when he is between the hashes and inside the box. A four-year starter with the Orange, Thomas shined last fall as he racked up 85 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in addition to 2 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles. The diminutive (5’9″ 217 lbs.) Thomas compares favorably to Bob Sanders, and his ability to line up in the slot, at safety, or even as a nickel linebacker could make him a tremendous asset at the professional level.
Thomas might very well receive a good deal of playing time on the defensive side of the ball due to the health of Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. Both safeties are getting “long in the tooth” at this point in their careers, and Polamalu in particular has been unable to stick and stay on the field consistently. If Troy and Ryan can suit up on a weekly basis though, Thomas will be able to take his physical play to Pittsburgh’s special teams coverage units.
Le’Veon Bell is an obvious choice to start during his first year for the sole reason that he has essentially nothing or nobody standing in his way from becoming Pittsburgh’s “every-down back.”
I mean, I hope that the Steelers are able to get Bell on the field as early as possible, because Colbert & Co. certainly passed over some extremely talented players at positions of need to take Le’Veon with the 48th overall pick.
To be fair to the imposing back (6’1″ 244 lbs.), he did have a very productive career at Michigan State. After sharing the running game-load with some success during the 2010 and 2011 seasons (1,553 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns combined), Bell “was” Michigan State’s ground-attack last fall. Le’Veon toted the rock 382 times for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns, and did a fine job considering that his opposition would stack the box due to the Spartans’ anemic passing-game.
A decent pass-receiving option for Michigan State as well, Bell managed to record 67 receptions over his final two collegiate seasons, but his lack of speed and explosiveness will likely relegate him to “screens only” at the professional level.
I for one hope that Bell is as good as advertised and that he can beat out Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer for sole possession of the #1 spot on the depth chart. Otherwise, I’ll be downright sick to my stomach that the Steelers took Le’Veon as high as they did over other players like Arthur Brown, Keenan Allen, D.J. Swearinger, Jonathan Bostic, Jamie Collins, and Sio Moore.
People are already comparing Le’Veon players to Eddie George and Steven Jackson, so I hope that those hold true and that my questions about his speed, explosiveness, and agility are non-issues when he laces them up for Pittsburgh during his career. Concerns aside, Bell will likely receive “first crack” at the starting running back gig. I just hope that he can kickstart Pittsburgh’s pathetic running game early and often. Otherwise, I will not be shy when I continually voice my displeasure over Bell’s acquisition.
Due to the fact that the Steelers are in the middle of a roster overhaul at the moment, I earnestly hope that the team is able to receive some significant contributions from their rookies this year. this franchise is in the middle of a roster overhaul at the moment. Heck, I hope that some of Pittsburgh’s UDFA’s are able to make some noise this offseason.
Nik Embernate could take advantage of the Steelers’ lack of depth along the offensive line, Luke Ingram could give Greg Warren a run for his money as the team’s long snapper, and Cordian Hagans and Brain Arnfelt could push Williams and Woods for a spot at defensive end.
Thoughts on the UDFA’s aside, if things do indeed go sour by the middle of the regular season for the Steelers, I would really like to see the coaching staff roll the dice with some of the talented yet less experienced players to see what they can do in game-situations and give them much needed experience.
Regardless of how the 2013 season eventually turns out, it would certainly be nice to see 2013’s draft class make a bigger impact than some of the other ones have failed to do in recent memory (2008, 2009, 2011, 2012).
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