Steelers notebook: Rookie WR Wheaton undergoes pinkie surgery
• Steelers rookie wide receiverMarkus Wheaton had his first significant role in the game plan against the Vikings last week, but now might not be available for the Oct. 13 game against the Jets. Wheaton suffered a broken pinkie finger during last week’s 34-27 loss to the Vikings that required surgery. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday that they will not evaluate Wheaton until he has his stitches removed. “It will be a number of days before that’s able to transpire,” Tomlin said. Wheaton has three catches for 26 yards in four games even though his snap count has risen every week. Wheaton has played in 56 snaps with 36 coming against the Vikings. He’s been targeted only six times.
• The Steelers practiced twice this week before having a mandatory four consecutive days off during their bye week. They could use the time off when it comes to injuries.Ben Roethlisberger (finger), Heath Miller (knee), Steve McLendon (hamstring) and Le’Veon Bell (foot) were “tempered” during the week, according to Tomlin. Other players nursing injuries are DaMon Cromartie-Smith (quad), Ramon Foster (chest) and Kion Wilson (hamstring).
• Offensive coordinator Todd Haley was pleasantly surprised with Bell’s performance against the Vikings, especially with the tenacity in which he ran. “He made a couple of attitude runs, running over the safety and carrying some linebackers with him,” Haley said. “Overall, missing a ton of time and not having seen him a whole bunch other than really the first week-and-half of training camp. I thought that it was a real good start.” Bell rushed for 57 yards on 16 carries and scored on a runs of 8 and 1 yards.
• Roethlisberger has targeted receiver Antonio Brown 24 times over the past two weeks, connecting 21 times. “We’ve been on the same page,” Brown said. Brown is among the league leader in six categories — receptions (32), yards (412), third-down receptions (10), yard from scrimmage (426), first downs (24) and receptions of 25 yards (3).
• Tomlin started off his brief after-practice meeting with the media with: “First of all, how about those Buccos? A big congrats to Clint (Hurdle) and those guys.” Tomlin did not attend the game but instead watched it at his house with his sons.
• Haley discovered a silver lining in a 34-27 loss to Minnesota. The Steelers were better on first down, averaging nearly 8 yards. “The last two games we were running the ball fairly efficient,” Haley said. “On first down, we were over 4 yards running the ball. When you’re down a couple of scores, you don’t have much of opportunity to run it. But we are encouraged by the direction the running game is going.”
Said offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert, “We did a good job on first-down run, but we’re getting off schedule with penalties or missed assignments.”
• The Steelers’ defense prides itself on limiting big plays. The defense last season gave up only two plays over 50 yards.
So far this season, the opposition has four plays over 50 yards: Chicago’s Matt Forte (55-yard run), Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (60-yard TD run), Greg Jennings (70-yard TD catch) and Jerome Simpson (51-yard catch).
“Now you see how important tackling is,” cornerback Ike Taylor said. “When you don’t tackle you give up plays like that. The plays you looking at, tackling has been the issue.”