Wide receiver Markus Wheaton is a mystery in Chicago, but Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger knows him well.
“Awesome teammate,” said Roethlisberger, who played with Wheaton the previous four seasons with the Steelers. “His locker was next to mine. Loved Markus. Was sad to see him go. Kind of enjoyed taking him under my wing and having fun with him.
“He was a great teammate, super-nice guy, very unselfish. Just really enjoyed having him around here. In terms of a football player, you’re getting a guy who’s very smart. He knew our offense very well. Could stretch the field. Made some very big plays for us when we needed him.”
The Bears and Bears fans can’t wait to find out what Roethlisberger is talking about. Wheaton has been virtually invisible since he signed a two-year, $11 million contract
($6 million guaranteed). He had his appendix removed three days into training camp. He broke his left pinkie early in his second practice back from the appendectomy.
Now it appears Wheaton’s return is imminent after full participation in practice Wednesday. It’s a timely debut because the Bears are playing Roethlisberger and the Steelers on Sunday at Soldier Field, but even more so because the Bears are desperate at wide receiver. With his big-play credentials, Wheaton is a deep threat who can take the top off a defense and give the Bears’ offense some much-needed room to breathe.
“I want to make plays down the field,” Wheaton said. “So hopefully when I get in, that’s what I’m doing.”
“We’re excited to see that,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said.
But in the same breath, even Loggains seemed to suggest we shouldn’t expect too much too soon. Wheaton has not played in a preseason or regular-season game. He has had little opportunity to build a rapport with quarterback Mike Glennon.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Loggains said, “because Mike didn’t have much time with him in OTAs. And in training camp, he was going with Mitch [Trubisky] more because of Kevin [White] and Cam [Meredith]. We’ve got to get those guys on the same page quickly.”
Wheaton likely will have some rust to shake off. Last year, he returned from a preseason shoulder injury in Week 3 against the Eagles and dropped the first three passes thrown his way — including one in the end zone on the opening drive — and was benched.
But when he’s right, he’s good. The next week he caught a 30-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger.
“He uses his hands very well,” Roethlisberger said. “When you’re trying to stretch the field, you’ve gotta have some little techniques to help you get open because [defensive backs] can run as much as receivers can.
“So you’ve got to be able to use your hands to swim, get some swiping, get your hands off. I thought he had some really good technique when it came to the deep ball and getting away from [defensive backs].”
Wheaton made the most of his time with locker buddy Roethlisberger.
“I was always picking his brain and asking him way too many questions and probably annoying him,” Wheaton said. “In the long run, it helped me out.”
Indeed, it did. Wheaton caught seven passes of 40 or more yards from Roethlisberger in his last three seasons in Pittsburgh, including touchdowns of 72 and 69 yards.
“Ben took my game to a whole [new] level,” Wheaton said. “He’s taught me so much from being there for four years. I definitely appreciate everything he’s done for me. He taught me how to enhance what I do have and not worry about what I don’t. [Like] film work — just focusing on what I do have and fine-tuning it.”
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