Pick of the corner litter? Wheatley has eye on a spot.
COLUMN: PATRIOTS TRAINING CAMP
FOXBORO - Terrence Wheatley has yet to be ordered to perform the most basic of rookie tasks at training camp, that being carrying the veterans' equipment after practice.
But the Patriots' second-round pick seems to be doing a good job of handling what has been asked of him thus far. Wheatley hasn't stopped Randy Moss when he's been matched up with the All-Pro receiver - no shame there - but the promising cornerback hasn't let those types of setbacks get to him.
"It's been a little bit rough at times, but again, I'm just trying to go out there and compete," Wheatley said. "I think that's the biggest thing that I'm focusing on right now - competing and making sure I don't blow coverages and making sure I know everything I need to know.
"After that, I'm just trying to learn as much as I can in terms of what Randy wants to do or whether it be Chad (Jackson) or whoever I'm guarding. Everybody has their tendencies and you try to pick up on that."
Wheatley is wearing No. 22, which was the property of Asante Samuel before he fled to Philadelphia in the offseason. Replicating Samuel's performance - he had 16 interceptions the last two seasons - is impossible, but someone is going to replace him.
Veterans Fernando Bryant and Jason Webster, who has pretty much been sidelined this week, entered camp with an early advantage because of their experience. However, it wouldn't be wise to discount anyone in a cramped pool that also includes veteran Lewis Sanders, Wheatley and fellow rookie Jonathan Wilhite, and sophomore Mike Richardson.
"We will see how it all shapes up, but it seems like a very competitive group right now," coach Bill Belichick said. "Everyone is right in the mix, which isn't always the case."
Wheatley is 5-foot-9 and 183 pounds, which makes him eerily close to Samuel in stature. The former University of Colorado standout has big-time speed, having been clocked at 4.37 seconds in the 40.
Physical tools aside, Wheatley comes across as an articulate, intelligent, and well-grounded individual.
Being drafted early (62nd overall) means there are people who expect Wheatley to make an early impact. He's wise enough to know that although he has left college behind, there's quite a bit of learning ahead of him.
"You haven't seen guys this big, this strong, this fast," Wheatley said, "so you may understand the defense, but you don't understand what receivers are trying to do to you. In college, I kind of understood it - after five years, you pretty much should - and coming up here, it's a little bit different trying to do that."
Cornerback can be a lonely position, especially for a rookie. It helps that Wheatley has a lab partner in Wilhite, who was taken in the fourth round out of Auburn and has an Ellis Hobbs-type physique.
The two are sharing a hotel room during camp. They've turned it into something of a study hall each night, comparing notes after practice as they try to pass NFL 101.
"We're like, `So, did you see what Randy did that play and how close I was, but yet I wasn't really that close,'" Wheatley said. "You do stuff like that. You go over the playbook and make sure we're all on the same page."
Considering he's all but a lock to break camp with the varsity because of his draft status, probably the most important thing for Wheatley to accomplish over the next month is building trust with the coaching staff and his peers. That's no different than any other player, although it's of particular importance to cornerbacks because of the inherent risks that come with the position.
"We're kind of out in the open on an island by ourselves," Wheatley said. "There is so much you have to do technique-wise and speed-wise that you have to make sure you're 100 percent certain in what you're doing. I always say when we mess up, everybody knows it, but when a linebacker or the line messes up, we kind of back them up."
The time will come when Wheatley finds himself carrying a veteran's equipment back to the locker room - probably around the time Rodney Harrison or Hobbs begin practicing. For now, he'll keep doing what he's been doing - that being to carry himself well on the field.
NAME: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
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|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Jul 30, 2008|
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