Pittsburgh Steelers: Emmanuel Sanders

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin spent part of the bye week looking at trends across the NFL.

One thing that couldn't have escaped the panoramic view he took of the league is how this has been a big year for rookie wide receivers.

From Odell Beckham Jr.'s amazing one-handed catch to Kelvin Benjamin’s eight touchdown grabs in 11 games, rookie wideouts are making an impact across the league, and that includes one of Tomlin’s own players. Wide receiver Martavis Bryant already has six touchdown catches even though the fourth-round draft pick didn’t dress until the Steelers’ seventh game of the season.

But as much acclaim as the rookie wide receivers have generated, this has really been the year of the Class of 2010 wide receivers.

Consider that an incredible five players in the NFL’s top 10 in receiving yards were drafted in 2010, including the top two, Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and the Steelers' Antonio Brown.

The Steelers, in fact, drafted two of the wide receivers among the top 10 for receiving yards, getting Emmanuel Sanders in the third round and Brown in the sixth round in 2010.

Sanders has had a breakout season after joining the Broncos as a free agent, already establishing career highs in catches (76), receiving yards (1,079) and touchdown receptions (eight).

No one is happier for Sanders, who never quite panned out in Pittsburgh, than Brown.

“I’m excited for him and it’s great to see him doing well,” said Brown, who still keeps in touch with Sanders. “He’s doing a really good job and it’s always great when you’re on the winning side of things and playing with Peyton Manning.”

Sanders has thrived while catching passes from Manning, and he also stayed relatively healthy. As a result, the two wide receivers who grew up together in Pittsburgh could meet again at the Pro Bowl.

Brown smiled when that possibility was posed to him earlier this week.

The fact that he and Sanders are both in the top four in the NFL in catches and receiving yards makes it seem a long time ago that the two often battled for one game day roster spot.

That happened in 2010, when Tomlin often pitted the two in competition with one another and framed it as “two dogs for one bone.”

“I think it just encouraged two rookies when they came into the league to stay hungry and always better themselves,” Brown said.

They have done just that.

In the process, Brown and Sanders have shown that while the rookie wide receivers have more than lived up to the hype, it is another group of wideouts that is reigning supreme right now, with Detroit’s Golden Tate and Dallas’ Dez Bryant also excelling from the Class of 2010.

LATROBE, Pa. -- Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was always one of the better interviews during the four seasons he spent with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He almost always gave thoughtful and honest answers, and I don't want to bash him for his unvarnished take on Peyton Manning's leadership compared to that of Ben Roethlisberger.

Too often we, as in the media, complain that the players and teams we cover give responses to our questions that are as canned as they are clichéd. And then we club them over the head with their words if they ignite a controversy.

What I can't reconcile with Sanders' assertion that Manning is a "far better leader" than Roethlisberger is a scene inside a silent visiting locker room at M&T Bank Stadium late last November.

The Steelers had just suffered a crushing 22-20 loss to the Ravens after rallying back from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit. They should have tied the game late when Roethlisberger put a two-point conversion pass right on Sanders' hands.

Sanders dropped the ball, bringing to a screeching halt the three-game winning steak and momentum that the Steelers had taken into the game on Thanksgiving night.

Inside the Steelers' locker room, just after the scab had been ripped off a team that had started the season 0-4, Roethlisberger put his arm around his crestfallen teammate and talked into the earhole of Sanders' helmet.

A little later Roethlisberger offered similar encouraging words when he spoke to reporters about Sanders -- as well as an endorsement of a wide receiver whose next 100-yard game will be his first in the NFL.

If what Roethlisberger did in that locker room when emotions were still so raw isn't leadership, I don't know what is. And I keep flashing back to that scene with Sanders standing by what he said on a Denver radio station a couple of weeks ago.

I applaud Sanders for owning his comments and not playing the taken-out-of-context card.

But he is off base, and not just because Roethlisberger was one of his biggest supporters when the two were teammates.

Sure, Roethlisberger doesn’t throw to his wide receivers after practice as much as Manning does, but one of Manning's hallmarks is his obsessive attention to detail. How many quarterbacks wouldn't suffer in comparison to Manning when looking solely at the extra work they put in with their wide receivers?

Also, Sanders apparently hasn't kept up with what has been going on with the Steelers since he signed with the Broncos.

Roethlisberger has never been more engaged with his wide receivers, and he has been their coach as much as their quarterback at training camp.

This is clearly his offense.

And his team.

Sanders doesn't owe Roethlisberger an apology even though former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis was spot-on when he said there are different kinds of leadership.

Sanders truly believes what he said, and he has a right to his opinion.

He does owe his former quarterback a phone call, if only so Roethlisberger can ask a simple question: Why take a shot at a former teammate who picked up Sanders during one of his lowest moments as a professional?
Jerome Bettis defended Ben Roethlisberger on Tuesday, saying on ESPN's "First Take" that his former Pittsburgh Steelers teammate is a good leader with simply a different style from Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.

"I don't believe that Ben falls short in the leadership department," said Bettis, who won a Super Bowl with Roethlisberger and the Steelers in 2005. "You don't win a championship with a lack of leadership."

Former Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders created a stir Monday when he told KKFM in Denver that Manning is a "far better leader" than Roethlisberger. Sanders played his first four NFL seasons with Roethlisberger and the Steelers before signing with the Broncos in March.

"This is the first time that I had a quarterback that stays every single day after practice, no matter what his accolades," Sanders told KKFM about Manning. "He's not one of those guys you gotta go chase down. He's gonna be right at the same spot ready to work every single day."

Bettis said Sanders' comments were misguided and "a little disrespectful" to Roethlisberger.

"I think [Sanders] misunderstood what leadership is and he misspoke, and I think it was a little bit of a jab," said Bettis, who is an NFL analyst for ESPN. "I think if he had a chance, he'd take it back. It's not that Ben doesn't lead. He just leads differently than Peyton does."

Sanders took to Twitter on Monday following the ripple effects of his comparison between Manning and Roethlisberger and stood by what he said.

Asked about Roethlisberger's leadership, Bettis said the Steelers quarterback talked him into returning for one more season after Pittsburgh lost to the New England Patriots in the 2004 AFC Championship Game.

Bettis won the Super Bowl ring that had eluded him in 2005 before retiring.

"Ben Roethlisberger told me, 'Hey, don't retire. I'm going to get you a championship. Trust me on this,'" Bettis said. "After every playoff game [in 2005], he gave me the game ball. After we won the Super Bowl, he gave me the game ball. That's leadership."

Camp preview: Pittsburgh Steelers

July, 17, 2014
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation’s Scott Brown examines the three biggest issues facing the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into training camp:

Continued growth on offense: The Steelers averaged 26.6 points in winning six of their final eight games last season, and the foundation is in place for them to build on that. It all starts with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who didn’t miss a snap last season and is still in the prime of his career. Roethlisberger never looked more in control than when he was running the no-huddle offense, something the Steelers did frequently in the second half of the season. The offseason practices were critical for Roethlisberger and new wide receivers (Lance Moore) and younger ones (Markus Wheaton) to work together in the no-huddle offense. Roethlisberger said the Steelers will add to their no-huddle playbook during the offseason and training camp before picking the best plays. He must be in sync with the wide receivers; Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery must be replaced for the no-huddle attack to hum again. Repetitions during training camp and preseason practice are critical, especially because the players will be in pads and hitting one another. That means the Steelers’ wide receivers especially have to stay relatively healthy during the most important time for team building, developing a rapport with Roethlisberger and earning his trust.

Getting after the quarterback: The Steelers managed just 34 sacks last season, their lowest total since 1990, and they must get more production from their outside linebackers. Jason Worilds supplanted LaMarr Woodley at left outside linebacker the second half of last season and led the Steelers with eight sacks. Worilds, hampered by a nagging calf injury during offseason practices, has to show that he can be a pass-rushing force for more than half a season. The former second-round pick has no one blocking his path to the field with Woodley now in Oakland. Jarvis Jones has to justify the Steelers using the 17th overall pick of the 2013 draft on him. The former Georgia All-American managed just one sack as a rookie but has improved his strength both physically and in regard to his grasp of the playbook. Jones also has Joey Porter mentoring him, and the Steelers will give Jones every opportunity to succeed. Depth is a concern at outside linebacker, so in addition to providing a consistent pass rush, Worilds and Jones have to stay healthy. If general manager Kevin Colbert is looking to add depth, Steelers fans will be quick to remind him that James Harrison is only a phone call away. What would most help the defense, however, is if Jones can provide the same kind of pass rush that Harrison supplied from the right side of the Steelers’ defense when Harrison made the Pro Bowl in five consecutive seasons.

Improving their run game and rushing defense: The Steelers struggled running the ball and stopping it in 2013. Both still matter, even at a time when NFL teams are slinging the ball early and often and using the pass to set up the run. Le’Veon Bell should improve on his 3.5 yards per carry in his second season, and the Steelers have improved their overall talent at running back. LeGarrette Blount is a significant upgrade over Jonathan Dwyer and third-round pick Dri Archer is a burner who gives the Steelers a home-run threat in the backfield. The Steelers should significantly improve on the 86.4 rushing yards they averaged in 2013. Not as certain is whether the Steelers will be appreciably better in stopping the run after yielding 115.6 rushing yards per game last season. Nose tackle Steve McLendon has gotten bigger and appears ready to assert himself this season, but defensive end opposite Cameron Heyward is a question mark. First-round pick Ryan Shazier should be an upgrade at weakside inside linebacker, but he will inevitably endure some rookie struggles, even if he is ready to start this season. Everything with the Steelers’ defense starts with shutting down the run, so it has to do a much better job this season.

Position preview: Wide receiver

July, 7, 2014
This is the next in a series that looks at every position on offense and defense with training camp approaching. Our fourth look is at wide receiver.

Returning starter: Antonio Brown. There are breakout seasons. Then there is what Brown did in 2013 when there were questions about whether the Steelers had a No. 1 wide receiver following the free-agent loss of Mike Wallace. Brown set a Steelers single-season record with 1,499 receiving yards and his 110 catches were just three shy of establishing a team record in that category.

New faces: Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey. The Steelers signed Moore to a two-year, $3.5 million contract shortly after Jerricho Cotchery signed with the Carolina Panthers. They signed the speedy Heyward-Bey to a veteran minimum contract and he will have to win a spot on the 53-man roster.

On the bubble: Derek Moye. The former undrafted free agent played his way onto the roster last season but he had a hard time getting on the field. The 6-5, 210-pounder caught just two passes for 20 yards and a touchdown, and he will have to hold off Heyward-Bey and 2013 sixth-round pick Justin Brown, among others, to again stick with the Steelers.

By the numbers: Brown had 23 catches that were at least 20 yards last season – one more than Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

Did you know: Danny Coale, who signed with Pittsburgh last January, is the son-in-law of former Steelers offensive lineman and color analyst for the team radio broadcasts Tunch Ilkin. Coale, a fifth-round draft pick by Dallas in 2012, has spent time on the Cowboys’ and Indianapolis Colts’ practice squads.

Quotable: “You can see a different level of confidence in the way they carry themselves. They are no longer rookies. They are no longer looking around at who to follow. They are coming out here and leading their group. I think that’s come from hard work. They didn’t get noticed during the season last year when they were on the practice squad or not getting a ton of reps in games, but everybody out here can see that they were working hard and were continuing to make plays and get better.” – offensive coordinator Todd Haley on second-year wide receivers Markus Wheaton and Brown.

Outlook: The Steelers had significant turnover at the position with the losses of Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders. They need Wheaton, a 2013 third-round pick, to emerge after a broken pinkie sabotaged most of his rookie season. Moore should prove to be a more than capable replacement for Cotchery and the wild card of the group is rookie Martavis Bryant. The fourth-round pick has an excellent blend of size and speed, and he could help the Steelers this season if he makes steady progress during training camp and preseason practice.
PITTSBURGH -- There is a reason, beyond the headaches that accompanied his production and flashes of greatness, the Pittsburgh Steelers have no interest in bringing back Santonio Holmes.

They simply don’t need the 30-year-old wide receiver, who won the MVP Award in their last Super Bowl victory but has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons.

[+] EnlargeLance Moore
Keith Srakocic/AP PhotoWide receiver Lance Moore, an eight-year veteran who signed with the Steelers this offseason, brings his 4,281 yards and 38 TDs to Pittsburgh.
Consider what offensive coordinator Todd Haley said last week about the Steelers’ receivers.

“It’s as deep a group as I’ve been around from top to bottom,” Haley said near the end of offseason practices. “I think some guys that are pretty good football players probably won’t make the team.”

Haley tempered his assessment of the Steelers' wide receivers with the acknowledgement that the current group has yet to show what it can collectively do in pads.

And, of course, everything looks better in June when every team is still undefeated and pass-rushers are wearing shorts and are prohibited from hitting quarterbacks.

But Haley’s comment about the overall quality of the Steelers' wide receivers resonates even at this time of year because of his resume.

He coached the wide receivers in Dallas and Chicago while climbing the coaching ladder, and the Arizona Cardinals had arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL in 2008 when Haley was their offensive coordinator. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin helped the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl appearance and nearly led them to an upset of the Steelers in Tampa.

Whether the potential Haley sees in the Steelers' wideouts translates into production, one season after the loss of Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders, who combined for 1,342 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013, remains to be seen.

Here are a few things to like about the Steelers’ wide receivers following organized team activities and minicamp:

  • Lance Moore, who signed a two-year, $3 million contract in March, stood out as much as any player during offseason practices. The former Saints wide receiver proved to be a quick study while learning a new offense, and he could put up big numbers if opposing teams pay too much attention to Pro Bowler Antonio Brown. Moore reminds me of Cotchery in the sense that he is a pro’s pro.
  • Markus Wheaton still has a ways to go to win the starting job held down by Sanders last season, and that is a good thing. Wheaton had a solid offseason, but he will have a lot of competition during training camp. Justin Brown, who stood out during offseason practices, will be among those who push Wheaton. The 6-3, 209-pound Brown spent all of last season on the practice squad, but wide receivers coach Richard Mann said, "He’s just a different guy. He understands the concepts. He’s smoother. His body language is different.”
  • The Steelers have so much depth at wide receiver that Darrius Heyward-Bey, the seventh overall pick of the 2009 NFL draft, will have trouble making the team. Heyward-Bey has to be consistent catching the call during training camp. But if he does that and makes the team, he would become a nice player to have as a No. 4 or No. 5 wide receiver. "He has the speed. He has the talent,” Mann said. Hopefully we will put him in a position to succeed with his speed and smartness, and we will take advantage of what he does best.”

Plenty is still unknown about the wide receiving corps. What exactly will the Steelers get out of Martavis Bryant this season? Is Wheaton ready to emerge as a significant contributor after catching six passes for 64 yards as a rookie? Will Brown build on his strong offseason and make a serious push for a roster spot?

These are among the questions that won’t be answered until after the Steelers report to training camp on July 25.

As Mann said, “When we start playing tackle, we will figure out what we have.”
PITTSBURGH – Steelers wide receiver Justin Brown has been working with the first-team offense and his improvement from his rookie season could come at the expense of his friend and former Penn State teammate Derek Moye.

Moye and Brown are among the Steelers wide receivers who will likely battle for one roster spot at training camp. The same thing happened a year when Moye, a former undrafted free agent, emerged as one of the preseason surprises for the Steelers and played his way onto the 53-man roster.

Brown spent all of last season on the Steelers’ practice squad, and if organized team activities are any indication, the 2013 sixth-round pick made good use of his time learning from wide receivers like Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery.

Brown has stood out during OTAs, which wrap up Thursday at Steelers’ headquarters. And if the 6-3, 209-pounder builds on what he has done in the offseason practices he will be tough for Moye to hold off this year.

Not that Brown looks at it as a competition between the two.

“We’re all out here competing, we’re all out here trying to get better,” Brown said. “Derek’s my boy so there’s no hard feelings at all. We’re always trying to help each other out with our games.”

What is interesting about the battle for the final spot at wide receiver is that whoever wins it could play significant snaps in 2014. Rookie Martavis Bryant, a fourth-round pick, may not be ready to contribute much this season so there is an opportunity for a player such as Brown to not only to make the Steelers but also to play in some sort of rotation at wide receiver.

Judging by the snaps he has gotten with the first-team offense -- and what he has done with them -- Brown could push for a more prominent role.

Brown, who played his final season at Oklahoma after transferring from Penn State, has already received praise from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and it’s easy to see why.

Brown caught a touchdown pass in traffic from Roethlisberger on Wednesday. He also broke up a pass in the end zone when an underthrown Roethlisberger pass could have resulted in an interception.

The way he fought for the ball on both plays hasn’t gone unnoticed by the coaches, who have given Brown a long look during the Steelers’ offseason practices.

“It’s definitely good getting some reps with the ones,” Brown said. “It definitely is encouraging. I’ve just got to keep working hard.”

That is because the competition for Brown and the other wide receivers trying to make the team won’t really start until July 25, the day the Steelers report to training camp.

“I think we’ve got a lot of good younger receivers,” said Moye, who caught two passes for 20 yards and a touchdown last season. “It’s going to be a good competition. At the same time we’re out there helping each other out, making sure we all push each other to be better.”
PITTSBURGH – The Steelers signed Lance Moore in March to take over for the departed Jerricho Cotchery as their No. 3 wide receiver.

The start of the 2014 season is still three months away but Moore has already assumed one of Cotchery’s duties: mentoring young wide receivers like Markus Wheaton.

[+] EnlargeLance Moore
AP Photo/Matt RourkeWide receiver Lance Moore might be new to the Steelers, but is embracing a veteran role in the locker room.
Wheaton, in fact, has attached himself to Moore after doing the same thing last year with Cotchery.

“From the day that I got here we’ve kind of been in big brother, little brother mode,” Moore said. “I want to teach him and I want to help him learn. I’ve shared my story with him.”

And the point Moore wanted to drive home to Wheaton with his story?

“Everybody has their own route,” Moore said, presumably no pun intended. “It doesn’t matter where you come from. You’re here now and what you do is going to dictate what happens in your career.”

That message should have really resonated with Wheaton considering who delivered it.

Moore made the NFL as an undersized wide receiver and as an undrafted free agent. He got cut three times by two different teams and played in the now-defunct NFL Europe before sticking with the New Orleans Saints.

Despite getting cut twice by the Saints before making the team, Moore developed into one of Drew Brees’ most trusted targets and an integral part of a high-powered passing attack that carried the Saints to a Super Bowl title in 2009.

The Saints thought so highly of Moore that after they released him in a cost-cutting move that coach Sean Payton released a lengthy statement praising Moore’s perseverance and professionalism and thanking the 5-9, 190-pounder for the productive seasons he strung together in New Orleans.

Moore understands why his time with the Saints ran its course. But the ninth-year veteran is still guided by the sensibility that nothing is given in the NFL, particularly to undersized wide receivers who played their college ball at Toledo -- Moore and Steelers backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski were teammates and roommates there -- and went undrafted.

“That’s one thing that’s enabled me to stay for so long is having a feeling that I still haven’t really made it,” said Moore, who was first cut by the Browns after signing with Cleveland as an undrafted free agent in 2005. “That’s what makes me come out and compete with an edge every day. I’ve got a heck of a story but I’ve still got some chapters left to fill it.”

The Steelers are counting on that.

They have a lot of production to make up for following the losses of Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders. And Moore and Wheaton will be counted on heavily this season, which is another why the two have been working closely together during organized team activities, which resume this week.

Moore is still learning the offense but judging from the way he has looked in offseason practices, so far, so good.

“He’s really come along fast,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “Lance is a pro.”

He is a pro who is fortunate enough to play with two top-tier quarterbacks during his career, going from Brees to Roethlisberger, one of only three active quarterbacks to win multiple Super Bowls.

“Ben is strong-armed with a sense of boldness,” Moore said of his new pitcher. “He’s going to throw some balls that maybe some other guys wouldn’t, even guys with strong arms. I love that as a receiver.”

And so a new chapter begins in Moore's unlikely story.
PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger merely confirmed after the Pittsburgh Steelers' final practice this week what his actions on the field the last two weeks have shown.

"I feel younger than ever," the Steelers quarterback said Thursday.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Keith Srakocic/AP PhotoQB Ben Roethlisberger has high expectations for the Steelers' offense in 2014.
That much is evident by Roethlisberger doing some extra jogging in when he is not running the Steelers' offense during organized team activities. Or directing a two-minute drill that ends with him firing a touchdown pass to Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown on a slant pattern, something Roethlisberger did Thursday.

The only time Roethlisberger shows his age -- he turned 32 in March -- is when the 10th-year veteran is directing an offense that is his now more than at any point of his decorated career.

Roethlisberger may not be Peyton Manning with all of the hand gestures and barking of signals, but he is not far off.

And it is only June.

No one is more responsible for an offense that came into its own in the second half of last season integrating new players and inexperienced ones than Roethlisberger.

Gone are two of his top three wide receivers from last season -- and the 1,342 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns that Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery combined for in 2013. The backfield has also undergone change with the Steelers signing LeGarrette Blount and drafting speedy fast Dri Archer to complement Le'Veon Bell.

Roethlisberger is charged with pulling everything together, and he has clearly embraced that responsibility while not tempering his expectations for the offense in 2014.

"I think we have a lot of speed," said Roethlisberger, who played every snap last season while throwing for 4,261 yards, the second-highest single-season total of his career. "That's running the ball, that's throwing the ball, whatever. I want us to be fast and put a lot of points on the board."

The Steelers averaged just under 28 points in the final eight games last season. Roethlisberger is the key to them building on that and he has been nothing but a leader during OTAs. Roethlisberger has been front and center at the offseason practices, missing only one of them because of a family obligation.

"I love being out here. I love the game," Roethlisberger said. "I'm excited about this team and the direction we're headed."
PITTSBURGH -- Soft-spoken and humble, Markus Wheaton is in many ways the anti-wide receiver -- or at least the preening, me-me-me player that has become the caricature of the position.

[+] EnlargeMarkus Wheaton
Patrick Semansky/AP PhotoThrough offseason practices, Markus Wheaton appears to be the leading candidate to start at wide receiver for the Steelers.
Far from demanding the ball, Wheaton won’t even say the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting job opposite Pro Bowler Antonio Brown is his to lose even though he occupies it at the outset of offseason practices.

“There’s a lot of guys chasing that spot and hopefully I can get it first and go from there,” Wheaton said. “They’re pushing all of us to get better, and whoever wants it the most will take it, so I’m going to do what I can to get that spot.”

Such, ahem, bravado, won’t ease the anxiety of Steelers fans who have concerns about a receiving corps that lost two of its top three players from last year and 16 touchdowns alone from Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders.

But Wheaton appears ready to emerge in every way except for his decidedly non-cavalier attitude.

The finger injury that required multiple surgeries last season and limited Wheaton to 157 snaps is behind him, he said. Wheaton and fellow wideouts Derek Moye and Justin Brown also spent a week practicing with Ben Roethlisberger in California this offseason, taking the Steelers' quarterback up on his invitation to work on timing and other aspects of the passing game.

With Sanders in Denver -- he signed a three-year deal with the Broncos in March -- Wheaton has a clear path to the field.

And someone has to step up with Antonio Brown certain to see all kinds of extra attention this season.

“I’m excited to see what he can do,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s a guy that wants to prove that he can be a starter.”

Wheaton did not get to show much last season after breaking his right pinkie in several places in the fourth game of the season. The injury, which also damaged a joint, effectively forced Wheaton to redshirt his rookie season, but it did not stop the third-round draft pick from doing everything he could to learn a new offense.

And when the 5-11, 182-pounder had one of his many questions, he could turn to Cotchery or Roethlisberger, whose locker is next to Wheaton’s at the Steelers’ practice facility.

“Being able to sit out last year pretty much helped me,” said Wheaton, who caught six passes for 64 yards in limited action. “I learned a lot of the coverages, the adjustments Ben throws at us, the playbook.”

How much Wheaton can transfer what he has learned to the field will be critical to Roethlisberger developing the kind of trust in him that will allow the Steelers to run their no-huddle offense with the same frequency as in the second half of last season when they won six of eight games.

“We lost two starting wide receivers that knew the no-huddle so well, so we’re going to need the new guys and the young guys to pick it up quick,” Roethlisberger said.
PITTSBURGH -- This is the first in a series that takes a post-free agency, post-draft look at the all of the positions with the exception of quarterback.

The Steelers' depth chart at the position still has Ben Roethlisberger atop of it followed by veteran Bruce Gradkowski and 2013 fourth-round pick Landry Jones. The Steelers signed Brendon Kay as an undrafted free agent but he is a long shot to unseat Jones as the No. 3 quarterback.

Our first look is at a position that has undergone its share of change since the last season.

Wide receiver

Who is new: Lance Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Martavis Bryant. The Steelers gave serious thought to drafting Bryant in the third round. They got the 6-foot-4, 212-pound speedster in the fourth round.

Who is gone: Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery. Sanders signed with the Broncos, and the Steelers moved quickly to sign Moore after the unexpected loss of Cotchery to the Panthers.

Returning starter: Antonio Brown. All he did last season was catch 110 passes for a Steelers single-season record 1,499 yards. So much for Roethlisberger needing a primary target following the loss of Mike Wallace.

Most significant addition: Moore. A smaller but savvy receiver, Moore thrived while catching passes from Drew Brees in New Orleans. The Steelers need the ninth-year veteran to help offset the loss of Cotchery as the Steelers' No. 3 wide receiver.

Most significant loss: Cotchery. The consummate professional was one of only 11 players in the NFL to catch at least 10 touchdown passes in 2013. Roethlisberger has already publicly lamented the loss of Cotchery, which is just one measure of how valuable the latter was to the Steelers.

On outside looking in: Derek Moye. The former undrafted free agent and Pittsburgh-area product logged just 52 snaps last season and caught two passes for 20 yards. Moye will again have to fight his way onto the 53-man roster.

Hidden number: Brown is a do-it all player who has made the Pro Bowl as both a wide receiver and a punt returner. But only 15 of his 261 career receptions have resulted in touchdowns. That and the loss of Cotchery magnified the need for a potential redzone target like Bryant.

Outlook: No player is on the spot more than second-year man Markus Wheaton. The starting job opposite Brown is his for the taking, and the 2013 third-round draft pick could be an upgrade over Sanders if he takes advantage of his opportunity. The Steelers' faith in Wheaton allowed them to wait until the fourth round to take Bryant, and the Clemson product could be the ultimate wild card. Bryant has a tremendously high ceiling but there are concerns about his maturity. ESPN analyst Todd McShay has called Bryant a "boom or bust" prospect. If he turns out to be the former Roethlisberger will be one happy quarterback.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have nine picks in the 2014 NFL draft, and this is the eighth in a series that looks at the nine positions they could address in a week. Keep in mind the Steelers are likely to draft two cornerbacks, so they might not take a player at every position covered in this series.

Our eighth look is at wide receiver.

Added: Lance Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey

Lost: Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery

Skinny: No position in a deep draft is more loaded than wide receiver. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said recently that a “minimum of seven” wide receivers will get taken in the first round, and that as many as nine could come off the board on the first day of the draft. The Steelers are unlikely to get a shot at Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, unless they trade up, as one of the tallest wide receivers in the draft will almost surely be a top-10 pick. If the Steelers covet a big wide receiver they could trade down and take Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin or Indiana’s fast-rising Cody Latimer. The pool of wide receivers is also deep enough that the Steelers can wait until after the first round and still get a good prospect. They have a history of finding wide receivers later in the draft, and they might be more inclined to target a cornerback in the first round and wait a little bit to take a wideout. I do think the Steelers draft a wide receiver with one of their first three picks.

Draft likelihood: High


Last WR drafted by the Steelers: Justin Brown, sixth round in 2013

Last WR drafted by the Steelers in the first round: Santonio Holmes, 2006

Last WR taken 15th overall in the draft: Michael Clayton, Titans, 2004

WRs drafted under Kevin Colbert/Mike Tomlin: Eight

WRs drafted under Colbert/Tomlin still with the Steelers: Three

Steelers' draft review: 2010

April, 16, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- The is the fourth in a series that reviews the Pittsburgh Steelers' drafts under general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin.

Next up is the 2010 draft:

Total picks: 10

Picks still with the team: 3

Best pick: WR Antonio Brown. The Steelers got an absolute steal when they landed Brown with the second of their two sixth-round picks. The fourth-year veteran has already made a pair of Pro Bowls and has twice been voted Steelers MVP by his teammates. Brown set a Steelers’ single-season record with 1,499 receiving yards in 2013, and he came within three receptions of also establishing a franchise mark for catches in a season. Not bad for the 195th pick of the draft.

Worst pick: OLB Thaddeus Gibson. The Steelers took the former Ohio State defensive end in the fourth round with the plan of converting him to outside linebacker. Gibson didn’t establish himself as a player who could at least contribute on special teams, and the Steelers lost him during his rookie season when they released Gibson with the intention of signing him to their practice squad. The 49ers claimed Gibson, but it didn’t turn out to be a significant loss. Gibson has bounced around the league, appearing in just four games for two different teams.

Best value pick (not named Antonio Brown): OLB Jason Worilds. The Steelers took some criticism for picking the former Virginia Tech star over linebacker Sean Lee, who had starred at a Pittsburgh-area high school as well as at Penn State. Such second-guessing only intensified when Lee emerged a Pro Bowl-caliber player in Dallas while Worilds didn’t contribute much his first three seasons because of injuries and the fact that James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were blocking him. Worilds, however, emerged as the Steelers’ best pass-rusher last season, notching a career-high eight sacks. The Steelers chose Worilds over the oft-injured Woodley in March when they used the transition tag on the fourth-year veteran and released Woodley.

Also of note: The Steelers hit big on first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey, No. 18 overall, as he became the first center in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons ... Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (third round) and running back Jonathan Dwyer (sixth round) were among the players the Steelers lost to free agency this year ... Every player the Steelers drafted has appeared in at least one NFL game.

Final analysis/grade: It’s hard to quibble much with the Steelers’ first three picks as they netted Pouncey, Worilds and Sanders. The Steelers didn’t fare as well in the middle rounds, but added great value in the sixth round. Brown has established himself as a star, and Dwyer had his moments in Pittsburgh, leading the Steelers with 623 rushing yards in 2012. I’ll give the Steelers a ‘B+’ for this class.
PITTSBURGH -- A day after adding depth at cornerback with the signing of Brice McCain the Steelers could do the same at wide receiver.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, the seventh overall pick of the 2009 NFL draft, will visit the Steelers on Wednesday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

According to the NFL Players Association, the Steelers are only $171,934 under the cap, but hovering near the spending ceiling hasn’t stopped them from filling holes on their roster, and Heyward-Bey has emerged as their latest target.

Heyward-Bey never lived up to enormous expectations in Oakland after the Raiders fell in love with his speed and made him the first wide receiver drafted in 2009. The 6-2, 219-pounder spent four seasons in Oakland before signing with Indianapolis.

Heyward-Bey played in all 16 games last season for the Colts -- he started 11 of them -- and caught 29 passes for 309 yards and a touchdown. In five NFL seasons Heyward-Bey has 169 catches for 2,380 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The Steelers are expected to take a wide receiver early in the draft but they apparently are interested in adding another veteran to the position as well.

Markus Wheaton is expected to get the first crack at replacing Emmanuel Sanders opposite Pro Bowler Antonio Brown, but he played just 153 snaps his rookie season and caught six passes for 64 yards.

The Steelers signed Lance Moore to take over as their No. 3 wide receiver following the loss of Jerricho Cotchery to the Panthers and the only other wide receiver on the roster with any NFL experience is Derek Moye.

The 6-5 Moye played 52 snaps last season and caught two passes for 20 yards and a touchdown.

Steelers mail: MJD a good fit at RB?

March, 27, 2014
Here is the latest Steelers mailbag with another one to follow on Saturday. The questions have been great so please keep them coming by sending to @ScottBrown_ESPN with #steelersmail.

And away we go…