Ben Says Wheaton Ready

Markus Wheaton (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH -- The most popular guys on 0-2 teams are always the highly drafted rookie backups. Like Markus Wheaton.

To hear it out on the streets, Markus Wheaton will solve all of the Steelers' problems. Well, not all of them. And it couldn't hurt, could it?

Ben Roethlisberger, who's taken young Markus under his wing, says the time is now.

"I thought he would be in a little bit more," said Roethlisberger. "But I think you'll start to see him getting in more this week."

Wheaton caught 91 passes for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns last year at Oregon St. The track star ran a 4.44 40 at the combine and the Steelers drafted him in the third round.

In the preseason, Wheaton caught 9 passes for 139 yards (15.4 avg.) and caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from Bruce Gradkowski on a third-and-1 play. He also dropped passes, fumbled, and fell down running while under balls in the open field.

It was a mixed bag, and his playing time in two games has reflected that.

Wheaton has played in both games, but hasn't seen a pass.

Roethlisberger, who lockers next to the soft-spoken rookie, thinks it's time.

"He's doing great," Roethlisberger said. "He doesn't say much in either way. I have to kind of force things out of him because I'm trying to really develop a relationship with him, both on and off the field, because I think it's important. I think he's a guy we can use as a weapon, smart guy, has a good understanding of the offense, doesn't really make mistakes. If he makes mistakes, it's not really running the wrong route, it's depth here and there, or what we call 'giving too much flavor' at the top of routes, trying to shake too many guys like he's in college. So to me, he's more than ready to get in and start doing stuff for us."

The problem, though, is that he's yet another 5-11, 189-pounder.

Antonio Brown is 5-10, 186 and Emmanuel Sanders is 5-11, 186 (combine/pro day measurements). And Roethlisberger made yet another comment yesterday about the lack of size in his receiving corps. He had been asked about a perceived "disconnect" between the QB and his wide receivers.

"They're not the biggest guys in the world," Roethlisberger said. "So it's easy for defensive backs to hold them and push them and arm-bar them, and they're not getting calls. So it's tough. They just need to keep fighting through those things. I know they'll do that. They take pride in their work and they work hard at it. We're going to spend some extra time today making sure we can work through those issues."

Roethlisberger's counterpart this week with the Chicago Bears, Jay Cutler, remembers those days, when he had the exact type of receiver in abundance.

"Yeah, when I first got to Chicago we had a bunch of little, fast guys that were all running 4.3s," Cutler said yesterday. "They're hard targets to hit. You just have to work with what you have out there. Ben has been in it long enough. He'll make it work somehow or some way."

Cutler's first group in Chicago -- Devin Hester (5-10, 185), Johnny Knox (5-11 1/2, 185) and Earl Bennett (5-11 1/2, 209) -- was small, but still bigger than the group with which Roethlisberger's working.

Cutler now has Brandon Marshall (6-4 1/2, 229) and Alshon Jeffery (6-3, 230), and he's happy. "We've got a lot of big guys," said Cutler, who pointed out 6-6 tight end Martellus Bennett and 6-2 running back Matt Forté are pass-catchers as well. "They do a good job of getting off press. It makes it nice. That window to throw in is a lot bigger when you're dealing with guys who are 6-2, 6-2 and 6-4."

Roethlisberger has publically asked for bigger receivers ever since Plaxico Burress left in 2005. Instead, he's trying to find a way to add a rookie to his collection of smurphs before a must-win game against the 2-0 Bears.

"Big corners, physical. It's going to be a big challenge," Roethlisberger said. "It's another good defense we play this week. We're going to have to be on our screws and start to work now."

NOTES -- Tight end Heath Miller went through a full practice for the first time since tearing an ACL last December. ... CB Cortez Allen (ankle) and DE Brett Keisel (calf) missed the practice, while RB Le'Veon Bell (foot) and OLB Jarvis Jones (heel) practiced in a limited capacity.

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