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Ben Roethlisberger: Markus Wheaton will surprise

Ben Roethlisberger called second-year receiver Markus Wheaton "key" to the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense in 2014.

After Wheaton struggled mightily down the stretch of his rookie campaign -- zero catches in the final six games -- Big Ben believes the receiver's offseason work has positioned him to become a playmaker.

"He's a young guy people don't know about yet," Roethlisberger said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He hasn't earned that respect, which is probably rightfully so, because he hasn't done much. But I'm excited for him because I think he's going to surprise a lot of people."

The Steelers need Wheaton to step up to take some of the pressure off Pro Bowl wideout Antonio Brown. The speed the third-round pick can provide should give Big Ben the deep target he's been missing since Mike Wallace left for Miami.

One reason Pittsburgh was comfortable watching Emmanuel Sanders ride to Denver, was due to the faith in the younger Wheaton.

"He's learning and growing fast, and we need him to," Roethlisberger said. "That's what's great about him. He doesn't make the same mistake twice. He's busting his butt every day in practice. I grabbed him upstairs (Monday) and talked to him about something he did a little wrong in the game. He had nothing to do with the play, but he was heartbroken that he screwed something up that he probably shouldn't have. He puts that work in. He's watched (Brown). He knows what it takes to be a pro."

The early returns in the preseason are positive. He had a beautifully ran 16-yard touchdown snaglast week and a 28-yard grab in the first week. We should get a larger sense of Wheaton's role in tonight's third preseason game, against the Philadelphia Eagles.

*The "Around the League Podcast" AFC Season Preview is here. You're welcome. *

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