By Chris Emma—
(670 The Score) Desperate to move the chains, Bears rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky looked downfield and found a sight for sore eyes.
He fired a bullet downfield to Markus Wheaton, the veteran receiver then with just one reception to his name this season. On third-and-18 late in the third quarter in Detroit on Saturday, they connected for 22 yards to move the chains.
“He runs really good routes, he’s got good hands and he’s a reliable guy,” Trubisky said of Wheaton. “So, just got to continue to utilize him going forward, and (he and I) just got to continue to build chemistry to get on the same page.”
To say this season has been disappointing for Wheaton would be a major understatement. Signed to a two-year deal in March, he has just three receptions for 46 yards over nine games with the Bears. Wheaton finally eclipsed Kevin White in receptions this season, and White has been out since being injured in the season opener.
Wheaton was set back by an emergency appendectomy early in training camp, which hindered his chance to build a connection with the Bears quarterbacks. Upon a return three weeks later, he suffered a broken pinkie finger and missed the first two games of the season.
Wheaton returned to action and played three games, recording one reception for four yards before the next injury, a groin tear in practice during Week 6. He would miss three games after that before returning in a reduced role.
The Bears coaches have been adamant that Wheaton can earn his place during practice. He isn’t quite in agreement with that assessment, admitting his frustration with this season.
“We’re obviously not on the same page,” Wheaton said last week in regard to the coaching staff. “I want to be on the field. I’m not on the field. Me personally, I think I should be. I’m sure they’re doing whatever they need to do to help this team win. As long as their motivates are in line with that, then I can’t really be mad.
“It’s not about me. It’s about the team. For me to voice or show my frustration wouldn’t help anybody. Being here, it’s about trying to help the team get wins. I’m just trying to do what I can to help that out.”
While Trubisky has developed a connection with Kendall Wright – the team’s leading receiver with 50 catches and another free-agent signing from March – Wheaton hasn’t been able to get in rhythm with the rest of the offense.
The 26-year-old Wheaton built his name as a deep threat for the Steelers, working as a complement to star receiver Antonio Brown. Playing alongside one of the game’s top targets typically means production, as it has this season for Martavis Bryant and rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster in Pittsburgh.
The Bears believed that Wheaton could an impact player in their offense. During four seasons in Pittsburgh, Wheaton posted 16 catches of more than 20 yards and seven for more than 40 yards. A shoulder injury decimated his 2016 season, which brought only four receptions. During two healthy seasons in 2014 and 2015, he posted a combined 97 catches for 1,393 yards and seven touchdowns.
Wide receiver has presented the Bears with plenty of problems this season. Losing White and Cam Meredith early on brought forth the challenge of finding targets. They’ll be sure to look for some receivers this offseason.
First, the Bears will evaluate whether the lack of production was the byproduct of Wheaton or his fit with the offense.
“That’s something I can do anywhere,” Wheaton said. “As long as I’m on the field, I feel like I can do that. I have total confidence in myself. Whether it’s here or somewhere else, I’m sure I can get on the field and do that.”