Looking back at the offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to have had a successful draft, both replenishing the talent lost in free agency and retooling the aging areas of the roster. One of the big questions heading into training camp is which rookie(s) will earn enough playing time to make an impact.Jarvis Jones seems to be the consensus pick, and that would be for good reason: James Harrison is gone, Jason Worilds is still somewhat of an unknown and Jones was selected in the first round. In a perfect world that would be a perfect answer. Defensive rookies seem to struggle to work their way onto the field in Pittsburgh and that could be the situation this season for both Jones or safety Shamarko Thomas.
The rookies that are likely to play the largest role in 2013 are running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Markus Wheaton. Both come at positions that have some depth, however, both players offer something the incumbents cannot.
Bell is an all-around back that has the potential to be a three-down back, especially if he shows he can be a solid blocker on third downs. If he can do that, he could add a dimension that the Steelers have lacked out of the backfield in some time. Former running back Rashard Mendenhall appeared to have the skill set, but was never able to truly endear himself to the coaches or the fan base.
Bell is experienced in more of a pro-style offense than spread attack, potentially making his acclamation to the league easier than previous backs in Pittsburgh. Yes, he may lack the long-speed of Mendenhall, but he is a more physical runner with what better hands and more importantly, seems to already have a better attitude. It would not be a surprise to seem him starting the season opener.
While Wheaton may not start opening day, if he can pick-up the playbook early in preseason, he should play a major role stretching the field vertically, something the Steelers will lack now that Mike Wallace left for Miami.
Like Wallace, Wheaton has the ability to take the top off the defense and take any play to the End Zone. However, Wheaton may already be a more polished receiver than Wallace, with better hands and a better understanding of the route tree.
With Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders slotted in as starters, Wheaton should have the chance to come in as the number three receiver early on, just as the team did with Wallace during his rookie season.
Of course, it is only June, so these projections could change tremendously in the next month. If they do, Steelers 101 will be there to keep you updated.
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