New York Giants fans haven’t heard too much from rookie offensive lineman Chad Wheeler this season, but there is a good chance given the injuries to the offensive linen they might get to know the 6-7, 312-pound youngster out of USC very soon.
Wheeler has appeared in four games this season, playing a snap her and a snap there at right tackle.
Behind the scenes, Wheeler, a college left tackle, has worked on expanding his offerings to the Giants by not only working on the technique required on the right side, but by also adding guard to his skill set.
“He’s really had work at various positions to try to mix all those guys up around the offensive line both – not just on one side or the other, but even working some at guard,” said offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. “So, he’s been progressing nicely.”
Wheeler, who had never worked at guard, let alone on the right side, has recognized that the quickest way to get on the field is to be receptive to learning new positions.
As such he’s dedicated himself to learning the nuances between playing guard and tackle and playing each on the left and right side so that if his number should be called, there won’t be any drop-off.
“I feel good, I feel confident,” he said when asked how the process has been going. “I learned playbook well, and am transitioning to different positions well, so I feel good about where I am.”
In the first three games this season, Wheeler dressed but did not play. Last week against San Francisco, he was a surprise healthy scratch.
While he realizes that he must wait his turn, Wheeler has been busy focusing on transitioning his training regimen and his study habits to match what is expected of an NFL offensive lineman.
“I won’t say it’s been hard, but you have to stay in shape,” he said. “You have to stay strong—you haven’t played a full ball game in 10 weeks that can be tough for some people, but if you stay straight and stay on your routine, you should be all right.”
The Giants are counting on him to be all right. Starting right tackle Justin Pugh could be facing being sidelined for multiple games. And right guard D.J. Fluker is battling an ankle injury that he’s going to try to play through.
Bobby Hart will take Pugh’s place, but if one of Hart or Fluker can’t make it through the game, Wheeler is likely the next man up.
Wheeler has admitted that it’s taken some getting used to working on the right side after spending his college career on the left.
The biggest difference for Wheeler in lining up on the right side versus the left?
“My first step–like taking off on the left side is smooth and crisp, so I just have to match that on the right,” he said.
“He’s very athletic, has the feet that you like that you’ve seen all through training camp,” Sullivan said. “We saw that in some of his preseason games.”
Sullivan said they’ve also seen a side of the soft-spoken Wheeler on the field that should put him in a great position to succeed.
“Believe it or not–unlike most of the typical southern Californians, too cool, surfer-type–he’s got a mean streak to him, and you see that at times,” Sullivan said.
Wheeler said he’s been very receptive to the different tips he’s received from his coaches and from his veteran teammates, adding that his goal is to be able to earn everyone’s trust as quickly as possible so there is no hesitation to call his number when needed.
“There’s a high standard around here, so obviously you have to take responsibility,” he said.
And unlike tome players, who are reluctant to move from the position that got them to the NFL, Wheeler has not only accepted that possibility, he’s also put it into perspective.
“You feel more comfortable where you played at the longest, but as an offensive lineman, your goal is to stay in front of someone and move somebody, so it’s the same thing no matter where you are,” he said.