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With the Pittsburgh Steelers' training camp set to open on Friday, much of the discussion centers around how to replace the production of Mike Wallace at wide receiver. Wallace was the Steelers' leading component of the Steelers' air attack, reeling in 64 passes for 836 yards and eight touchdowns. Wallace signed as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins this offseason.
Now as the new season begins, Pittsburgh will look to a group of wide receivers that includes Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, Plaxico Burress and former Oregon State Beavers star Markus Wheaton (selected in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft) to pick up the slack. And while Brown and Sanders are all-but-guaranteed to be the No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers, the battle for the team's No. 3 pass catcher is far from settled -- with Wheaton firmly in the mix.
Here's a look at what's being said about Wheaton's chances for making a significant impact in his rookie season:
• For NFL on Fox, the Laces Out Crew dug up some footage of Wheaton juggling footballs. They also talk about some of the expectations for the rookie wide receiver:
The Steelers spent a third-round pick on Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton because of his track speed and consistent production at the collegiate level. He also has some elite eye-hand coordination talent.
Many experts predict that Wheaton will fill the vacancy that wide receiver Mike Wallace left in free agency. While that is a tall task, Wheaton displayed his ability to focus on the football by juggling.
• The AP's Will Graves writes that despite the new faces in Pittsburgh, expectations are as high as ever for the Steelers, including for Wheaton:
Mike Wallace and his speed ran off to Miami in the offseason. The Steelers hope they brought in a cheaper -- but eventually no less effective -- replacement in third-round pick Markus Wheaton. The rookie missed minicamp and organized team activities due to NCAA rules that prevented him from leaving school before graduation. Wheaton will have time to get his feet set behind veterans Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Plaxico Burress. But with Sanders in the final year of his deal and Burress looking for one last hurrah, Wheaton will be expected to contribute this season.
• NFL.com's Marc Sessler writes that while losing Wallace is a concern, it doesn't mean the Steelers' passing attack can't be effective -- thanks, in large part, to the addition of Wheaton:
The addition of rookie Markus Wheaton is a plus. The former Oregon State star has a chance to see plenty of playing time on passing downs. Our very own Daniel Jeremiah said ... that Wheaton has the "kind of toughness Hines Ward had." Wheaton, according to Jeremiah, is "capable of doing everything" and will serve as a "huge chess piece" for Ben Roethlisberger.
• Dustin Hockensmith of PennLive.com writes that Wheaton is one of the "new faces to watch" and projects him as the No. 3 wide receiver on the Steelers' depth chart:
A third-round draft pick from Oregon State, Wheaton comes to Pittsburgh after a highly productive college career. His skill set figures to translate immediately to the slot, where he can navigate tight spaces and turn short passes into longer gains.
• Joseph Bruno of Steeler Addicts, on the other hand, writes that Wheaton needs to be No. 4 on the depth chart -- behind Cotchery:
With Mike Wallace gone, Cotchery again will be looked upon to contribute as the third receiver behind Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Rookie Markus Wheaton has a shot to surpass Cotchery on the depth chart but the team will not rush that to happen. Cotchery begins third on the depth chart and at worst drops to fourth if Wheaton really shows he has a grasp of the offense. ...
Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Markus Wheaton are all the same, quicker, faster type receiver. ... In 2013, the only way I want to see Markus Wheaton on the field is because the rookie earned that time and not because of another injury to Cotchery.
• NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal writes that regadless of where Wheaton might be on the depth chart right now, Wheaton vs. Cotchery vs. Burress is one of the top "AFC position battles" entering training camp:
Burress probably is fighting just to make the team, but it's surprising he's on the Steelers to begin with. Wheaton is a fantasy football sleeper and could make a big impact as a rookie if he can pass the trusty Cotchery on the depth chart.
• ESPN.com projects Wheaton to catch 25 balls for 305 yards and one touchdown:
Wheaton fits the mold of a Todd Haley receiver: He may be undersized, but he's electric in the open field and can break away from defenders given a sliver of daylight. In fact, Wheaton is basically a clone of the two guys at the top of Pittsburgh's depth chart, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. It wouldn't be a surprise to see an all-Smurfs lineup of wideouts on the field at times in '13, though it's also likely that Wheaton was drafted as a potential replacement for Sanders, who's operating on a one-year contract this season.