FOXBORO, Mass. — Terrence Wheatley's story belongs on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. His stock has soared this summer, to the point where he's virtually guaranteed himself a spot on the Patriots' roster.
The 2008 second-round pick is coming off a nightmarish 2009 season in which he was inactive 12 times, including the postseason game. What's worse, he was only on the injury report twice before those missed games, which means he was a healthy scratch 10 times.
Wheatley got off to a nice start during his rookie season, but a wrist injury ended his campaign and he's been struggling to find that success again. This training camp, though, has been a good start in that regard.
Heading into camp, Wheatley was fifth or sixth on the Patriots' depth chart at corner. He remains behind their upper-echelon players at the position — Leigh Bodden, Darius Butler and Devin McCourty — but Wheatley has gotten past Kyle Arrington, and he's probably beaten out Jonathan Wilhite, too.
Any worries Wheatley might have had over his chances to make the team should be out the window.
"It's on you," Wheatley said about cracking the 53-man roster, which will be determined Sept 4. "It's never on anybody else. If you make the team, you definitely earned it. And if you didn’t, you've got to look back at your own career, and you probably could have done something a little bit different."
Wheatley has made a few highlight plays in training camp, including his interception of Drew Brees during joint practices with the Saints last week. It was Brees' only blemish during his three days in New England, and Wheatley credits his defensive improvements as a dedication to re-establishing trust in his own ability.
"I probably think a little bit too much," Wheatley said. "Obviously, pre-snap reads, you've got to sit down and think about what you need to do and some of the checks that we have, but once the play is going on, you've kind of got to shut your brain off and relax and play. It's the same game we've been playing since we were kids."
Wheatley also got into a handful of dustups with the Saints — a surefire sign of a player who is willing to do anything he can to let the coaches know he's working his tail off to make the team.
Then, in a key moment in the fourth quarter of the Patriots' preseason opener, Wheatley snuffed out a quarterback bootleg on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line and took Chase Daniel to the turf for a four-yard loss. On Monday, Pats head coach Bill Belichick said that’s a play Wheatley missed during the 2009 season.
When Wheatley was asked if he could recall said play, he basically took a pass and said they all kind of ran together.
"No idea, there were a bunch of plays that I probably missed last year, so I'm sure probably all of them," Wheatley said.
On the Daniels tackle, though, Wheatley said he left it up to his instincts. He recognized the play and reacted, which is a noticeable improvement in his game. It was also some tangible evidence that validated how hard he's worked to get it back together this year. That’s not to say Wheatley is there just yet, but he is worlds ahead of where he was last season.
"I definitely have the confidence to go out there and make plays like that," said Wheatley, who is one of the most cordial members of the team. "Once you make a read and make a decision, the one thing that I tell myself, 'If you're wrong, you're wrong. Deal with it later.' Hopefully I'll get more chances like that, and hopefully there will be more plays like that."
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