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Big Ben: Young Steelers WRs need to step up in 2016


One of the more tired clichés in the NFL lexicon is "stepping up" for a player who has been injured or suspended.

But in the case of the Pittsburgh Steelers, this will be all we hear about in 2016. Antonio Brown is the best receiver in football right now, but needs help. Top sidekick Martavis Bryant is on a year-long suspension for violating the league's policy on substances of abuse.

Essentially, this is our way of getting to one essential question: How good can the tandem of Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates be this year?

"We all need to step up anyway, but we have a lot of guys who carry a lot on their shoulders already, so we'll all need to step up," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I'd like to see some of the young guys really take the next step, especially the young receiving guys."

Wheaton, who caught 44 passes for 749 yards and five touchdowns last year is obviously the leader in the clubhouse to make a splash. Over the final six games of the season, he caught 28 passes for 476 yards and four scores, thanks mostly to a monster game against the Seahawks in Week 11. Coates, a third-round pick out of Auburn in 2015 with one NFL catch on his resume, might be a little bit more of a longshot.

"We just have to go out here and work every day," Coates said. "We lost a player. We have to pick up his slack. Everybody has to work together and get it done."

The hope is that Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey play close to replacement level as No. 3 and 4 wide receivers. That way, making up the lack of production won't be as daunting if the burden is shouldered by three receivers instead of one. That's probably the way coach Mike Tomlin is viewing the situation as well but, as the tired cliché goes, someone will need to step up in order to make that happen.