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Chad Wheeler could make first start for Giants vs. Chiefs on Sunday

No guarantees, but rookie tackle sounds like he expects to play

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants
Chad Wheeler
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Pugh has not practiced this week due to a back injury and almost certainly won’t play Sunday for the New York Giants when they host the Kansas City Chiefs. Bobby Hart, who said in September that “I know I’m the best right tackle in the league,” has been awful in his opportunities. Could that mean undrafted rookie free agent chad Wheeler will get his opportunity this weekend?

On Thursday, Wheeler certainly sounded like a guy who expected to be in the lineup against Kansas City.

“I can’t wait. It’s gonna be great,” he said on Thursday while surrounded by a half-dozen or so reporters, likely the biggest media crowd he has seen all season.

Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan would not confirm on Thursday that Wheeler would be in Sunday’s lineup, saying “you guys know I can’t talk about who’s playing, who’s starting, anything like that.”

Sullivan, though, did praise Wheeler’s progress since the Giants signed him as a priority free agent following the 2017 NFL Draft.

“He’s been a guy since he’s been here – very athletic, has the feet that you like that you’ve seen all through training camp. We saw that in some of his preseason games and there’s a, 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. “He’s progressing nicely. 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. So, he’s been progressing nicely.”

When the Giants signed Wheeler, who played at USC, general manager Jerry Reese was excited.

"Wheeler was a left tackle at USC. He had some issues. I think probably the reason he didn't get drafted is there were some off-field issues people were concerned with. But to get him as a free agent, we feel like he has a chance if he has his head on right. He was a talented player, but some off-field issues probably kept him from getting drafted,” Reese said.

CBS Sports draft analyst Dane Brugler had Wheeler ranked ahead of Adam Bisnowaty, whom the Giants drafted in the sixth round, but said that “his checkered medical and off-field history are both red flags.”

Back in May, Brandon Kearney of SB Nation’s Conquest Chronicles told us that signing Wheeler was a “low-risk, high-reward type of deal” for the Giants.

The Giants might be about to take a step on Sunday toward finding out if the risk they took on wheeler will lead to a reward.

The right side of the Giants’ offensive line could be completely revamped on Sunday. Inserting Wheeler could be one change. There is also uncertainty at right guard, where D.J. Fluker hobbled through the end of last Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers with an ankle injury. In the locker room on Thursday, Fluker did not seem certain about Sunday. He was listed as a limited practice participant. If Fluker can’t go, either Jon Halapio, who played his first NFL snaps last Sunday, or newly-signed John Greco would have to fill in.

No matter who he is playing next to, Wheeler believes he is ready.

“I feel good. I feel confident. Learned the playbook well, transitioned to different positions well,” he said. “I feel good about it.”