By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff
This continues a look at players who could be on the roster bubble this summer.
It was November 2nd, 2008, the Patriots were playing AFC rivals Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in a nationally televised Sunday night NBC game. The Patriots, after losing Tom Brady in the opening game of the season, came into the game with a 5-2 record, and facing a huge test against the Colts.
As the Colts offense trotted onto the field for the first time that night, a rookie cornerback lined up on defense for the Patriots, making his first-ever NFL start. Terrence Wheatley, a 5-9 185 lb second round pick out of Colorado was matched up with future Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison, who was approaching the end of his career, but still a major threat and favorite target of Manning.
With the Colts facing a third and two on their opening drive, Manning took the shotgun snap, and targeted Harrison. Wheatley, attached to his side the whole play, knocked the pass away, and the Colts were forced to punt the ball away.
Later in the first half Wheatley knocked away another pass intended for Harrison, but injured his wrist on the play, a bothersome body part for Wheatley, who also missed large portions of his college career with wrist injuries. The injury ended Wheatley’s season.
Hopes were high for Wheatley coming into the 2009 season, but instead Wheatley was inactive for 12 games, including the Wild Card playoff game against Baltimore. The times he did take the field, it was in reserve and special teams action. There were rumors of a knee injury suffered in the preseason, but nothing was ever officially confirmed.
Wheatley now enters his third season as a make-or-break campaign. The Patriots have drafted cornerbacks with high picks each of the last two years (Darius Butler and Devin McCourty) and Wheatley’s draft classmate Jonathan Wilhite has also passed him on the depth chart. With veteran Leigh Bodden signed to a new deal, Wheatley faces a fight for a roster spot this summer.
It’s easy to forget that like Shawn Crable, Wheatley was pretty highly regarded coming out of Colorado in the 2008 draft. This 2008 combine profile calls him “the premier man-coverage cornerback in an extremely talented conference.” (Big 12) While you know that a coach is going to go to bat for his own player, the words from Wheatley’s head coach seem a little more than you usual praise you hear:
“When the pro scouts come by, I just jump on the table for Terrence Wheatley,” said Colorado head coach Dan Hawkins. “I think he is a very solid individual, he is a hard worker, he is a smart guy, he is dependable, he is very, very consistent and he is a special talent. I could see that guy, if he continues, being an All-American type player. It is awesome to have him in the return game, too, because we know how fast he is and now that his wrist is healed up and it’s not as big a problem as it was last year, he can do some great things there. But he is a great kid, he really is.”
The positives sections of this scouting report is absolutely glowing:
Positives: Has a lean, but defined frame that can carry at least another 10 pounds of bulk with no loss in quickness … Shows good thickness in his thighs and calves and a toned upper-body torso with surprising power for a player his size … Builds to top speed in a hurry and shows explosive acceleration throughout his running stride … Has the closing burst to instantly make plays in front of him … His second gear is evident by the way he simply races past opponents on kickoff returns … Has very loose hips to redirect and is fluid changing direction … Never takes false steps in transition and shows very good balance on the move … Fearless in run support, closing on the play and pursuing the ballcarriers with good form to push the running game back inside from the perimeter … Has a keen understanding of the playbook, but will still spend time dissecting plays to discover ways to improve his technique … With his wrist surgeries behind him, he is showing much better power behind his tackling form (see 2007 Colorado State and Oklahoma games), doing a good job of wrapping and driving with his strong legs to rock the opponent back … Has made good strides in run support, knowing how to keep his pads low and attack the outside leg to impede the running back’s forward progress … Hard worker in the training room who also puts in extra hours studying game films … Type of athlete that performs best against top-level competition, as he loves the challenge … Dependable field leader who will spend extra time mentoring the younger players (has a bit of Troy Vincent in him, as he tries to understand the assignments of every position) … Could possibly make a good coaching candidate one day due to his grasp of the playbook … Quick to read and react to the ball in flight and shows good confidence in his hand extension and timing on his leaps to get to the ball at its high point … Has the loose hips to quickly get back into the action on the rare times he over-pursues … Has the hand placement and mirror ability to stay tight on the receiver during deep routes … Has an explosive closing burst, doing a good job of keeping the action in front of him … Even with his timed speed, he does not get overconfident and give his opponent a large cushion, preferring to stay tight on his man throughout the route’s progression … Demonstrates the body control to accelerate and adjust to the ball in flight … Can play off the ball, knowing he has the timed speed to close on the play … Maintains good relationship with the receiver and when he does eye the backfield, he is smart enough not to bite on play action … Has excellent range to make plays across the field … Very aggressive when combating for jump balls and will not hesitate to sacrifice his body and extend for the ball in a crowd … Shows good patience returning kickoffs, but is sudden when he spots the crease … Catches the ball naturally with his hands with the ability to secure the ball outside his frame … Lowers his pads and hits the opponent with a thud … More of a low-cut tackler, but has good wrap-up form.
I put a few things in bold above that really stood out to me, and showed perhaps what the Patriots saw in him.The negatives list is rather short, dealing mostly with lack of bulk, injury history and sharpness in focus and on turns.
After all of that, the NFL player that this report says he most compares to, is…Ellis Hobbs…and it is supposed to be a compliment, which seems to put this whole scouting report in the “questionable” category.
All things considered, the Patriots coaches did think enough of Wheatley to start him in that game against the Colts his rookie year, and he did pretty well before getting injured. He’s had a hard time getting on the field since then, but given his pedigree, as well as how high he was taken, it seems that Wheatley is still a possibility to be a contributor to this team at some point. It’s going to be hard for him to pass the guys ahead of him on the depth chart, his best hope for playing time at this point lies as a special teams player and dime back, but as we know, cornerback injuries some to come in bunches, and having depth in that area is always a good plan.
Not exactly what you want out of a second round draft pick, but the book is not entirely closed on Terrence Wheatley just yet.