Markus Wheaton an intriguing big-play option in Bears’ WR corps

After four seasons with the Steelers, wide receiver Markus Wheaton is entering a new world with the Bears.

In Pittsburgh, Wheaton joined a team with proven playmakers that ranked second, third and seventh in total offense the last three seasons. With the Bears, Wheaton is just another intriguing wild card in an offense that is rebuilding on the fly without Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery, and really wasn’t that good even with them. The Bears have been 21st, 21st and 15th in total offense the last three seasons.

Unlike the Steelers’ offenses that had a swagger as they prepared for the next season, the Bears are a developing bunch with a lot to prove.

“That’s exactly what it is,” the 5-11, 189-pound Wheaton said. “Everybody’s new, so we don’t know what it’s going to be. In Pittsburgh, you kind of have a clue because they’ve done it for so long. But everybody’s new [here]. Everybody’s trying to find their niche. We’ll see how it goes.”

Markus Wheaton beats Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor for a touchdown in the second half on Nov. 29, 2105. Wheaton had nine receptions for 201 yards in that game — the biggest game of his four-year NFL career. (AP)

Wheaton is excited about the potential of this offense.

“Absolutely, anything’s possible,” Wheaton said. “We have a lot of guys that are looking for an opportunity — guys who are hungry and have something to prove.”

Wheaton missed 13 games last season, including the last 11 with a shoulder injury. He finally was cleared for full contact last week, in time for this week’s minicamp at Halas Hall.

“I felt good,’’ he said after practice Tuesday. ‘‘I’m running good. I’m catching good. That’s all that matters.”

A former track athlete at Oregon State, Wheaton could give the Bears the deep threat they’ve lacked in recent seasons.

He averaged 17 yards per catch (44-749) with five touchdowns in his last full season in 2015.

But that likely comes with a catch. Wheaton’s success in Pittsburgh often was as a complement to Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown. His biggest game as a pro, in fact — nine receptions for 201 yards and a touchdown — came against the Seahawks in 2015, when Richard Sherman was locked in on Brown, and Wheaton slipped through the cracks for the only 100-yard game of his four-year career.

It’s possible Wheaton could emerge from that shadow and become a star himself. More than likely, the Bears are going to have to develop a true No. 1 threat — Victor Cruz? Kevin White? — to give Wheaton room to make a big impact.

That’s a common theme with this year’s Bears. A lot of players who aren’t highly regarded will have to step up and be better than people think. Wheaton doesn’t think that’s such a long shot.

“This is an underrated group,” he said. “After going through what they went through and [with] the guys we have signed, I think we are definitely underrated. But we come in and we work to get to where we want to be. We’ll get there, and it’ll show up on the field.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.



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