The Bears plan in the off-season was clear. Bargain shop on high upside vets who are fairly young who had off years but have produced in the NFL to prove it deals. Markus Wheaton is yet another one of these type of free agents. Wheaton is making nearly 6.5 million guaranteed this season so unlike slot receivers Kendall Wright and Victor Cruz, he is a lock to make the team.
The best thing Wheaton offers an offense is the ability to produce explosive plays. In 2015, he ranked 7th overall in yards per reception at (17.2). Generally from catching deep passes, but he can run an array of routes from the route tree and once the ball is in his hands can become an explosive runner. I’ll be going through several of them and how it translates to what the Bears will have in mind for using him.
Ironically, I picked probably the worst time to do my Wheaton piece as he had undergone an appendectomy This past Sunday. It’s about a 2-3 week recovery for us mere mortals until we can get back to normal activities so a top athlete with the finest of everything at his disposal should be good to go game one.
I’m going to stay with Wheaton’s 2015 season for my film study since it was his best one. First play I’m going to breakdown is Steelers versus the 49ers in a week two tussle in 2015. It’s in the 1st Quarter at the 13:25 mark, 2nd and 10, ball in Steelers territory on the 48-yard line.
Steelers are in 12 personnel (1RB/2TEs) with Antonio Brown playing the X (Split End) and Wheaton to the right of the formation as the Z receiver (Flanker). Wheaton is on the strong side of the formation with both Tight Ends lined up next to each other. One on the line of scrimmage right on the Left Tackles Shoulder, the other to the right of Tight End A in a stack look as Tight End B is about a yard and a half off the line of scrimmage with a single back six yards deep in an I formation making it look like an obvious power run play. This pays dividends as I’ll explain later in the film study.
The off Tight End then motions from right to left to show the defenses hand, but the defense doesn’t budge except for a precautionary half yard slide to their right, but coverage remains the same. The Niners still play it like a run play likely from seeing runs from this formation before on film as they sneak up the Left Safety towards the line of scrimmage anticipating the ball carrier will run off the tackles right shoulder in the C gap as the direction of the run. This now leaves the right seam vacated.
Seeing this the Steelers offense now knows it’s going to be a pass play. As Ben Roethlisberger drops back he kind of turns his shoulders towards the running back (at what would’ve been the mesh point if it were a handoff) to make it look like he’s going to hand it off to the back moving towards the area the safety moved up to defend. The line does a good job selling run for a split second before going into pass protect mode as the defense bites hard attacking the right C gap.
Wheaton makes the right read as for some uncanny reason the Corner plays outside leverage in press coverage after the Safety left the interior seam exposed. Wheaton then streaks upfield about ten yards then breaks in on a post route and gets the pass at about the 35 yard line and then falls forward for an extra 2-3 yards for a 19 yard gain.
This is something the Bears should be able to do with Wheaton off their own power run game and I expect a lot of 12 personnel looks this season too. Of course a lot will be determined by matchups week to week but I’m anticipating perhaps 25-30% of the time. Wheaton shows the ability to read the defense and make the proper sight adjustment and then run the correct route.
Next play is from the same game as previous at the 12:01 mark of the 4th Quarter. The ball’s on the Steelers 44 yard line and it’s 3rd and 7. Steelers are in 11 personnel (1RB/1TE) with Brown as the X receiver to the left of the formation beyond the numbers in the flat. Wheaton is set up on the strong side to the right of the formation just outside the hash in the seam as the Y receiver and the Z is to his right in a stack look.
On the snap, Wheaton breaks inside on a seam go route but there’s pressure forcing Roethlisberger out of the pocket to his right. Wheaton sees this as he turns to look for the ball and immediately breaks the same way and continues vertically towards the right sideline. Roethlisberger throws the ball on the run off his back foot even though he had time to set up, and consequently delivers it slightly behind Wheaton who catches it fter slowing up a little at the 12-yard line and is forced out of bounds at the 8 for a 48 yard gain. A better throw probably results in a touchdown.
On this play, it shows Wheaton’s awareness on scramble rules which should result in a lot of big plays downfield especially when Trubisky eventually gets in there with his athleticism to throw the ball deep on the run.
On the final play I’m going to do, the Steelers are on their own 28-yard line in the 4th quarter with 7:55 left to play in the game. Steelers are down 17 to 10. Steelers are in 11 personnel with Wheaton to the left of the formation on the strong side as the X receiver. The Z and Y are to the right. Wheaton runs a simple stop and go vertical route. Michael Vick rolls out to his left and Wheaton runs it down the sideline and about 20 yards into his route stops and turns his shoulder as if running a deep curl. The corner bites hard and Wheaton than accelerates past him along the sideline in a go route. Vick throws it downfield and inaccurately throws it towards the hash which forces Wheaton to catch it drifting towards the post and towards an oncoming defender which he does at the 30 where he had to kind of slow down and wait for it. A better throw down the sideline gets him in the end zone clean, but Wheaton gets it in there anyway making a nice cut on the safety and runs it in an extra 20 yards for the 72-yard touchdown.
Watching these plays I noticed Wheaton didn’t have a whole lot of targets. Usually under 5 a game which is understandable when you have a receiver like Antonio Brown. Here in Chicago he should get an opportunity to get more if he proves himself worthy and outshines his competition. Either way Wheaton shows his ability to go downfield and catch deep passes for big plays which should add an element the Bears had not had in awhile. That’s a flanker who can take the top off and open things up underneath for the tight ends and slot guys in the Bears version of a controlled efficient short to intermediate passing game focusing on runs after the catch.