Prior to this week, third-year tackle Chad Wheeler had spent the entire 2019 season languishing on the Seahawks 10-player practice squad. Now, he might be starting in a divisional round playoff game.
With Duane Brown and George Fant ailing and listed as questionable heading into Sunday’s playoff matchup against the Packers, coach Pete Carroll indicated Wheeler, who previously played for Seahawks line coach Mike Solari, would be next in line to play left tackle if neither player could suit up.
“He’s played for Mike and Mike knows him really well,” Carroll told reporters. “I’m real confident that if he we need him, he’ll be able to jump up. He’s worked on the left side for us almost the whole time.”
At one point, the 6-foot-7, 318-pound Wheeler was viewed as potential early draft choice while starring at USC. Bouncing back nicely from a torn ACL suffered during his sophomore season, he earned First-Team All-Pac 12 distinction as a senior at USC on 2016 and was a Second-Team All-Pac 12 selection in 2015.
However, Wheeler’s injury history and off-field issues led to him going undrafted in 2017. Signed as a priority free agent, he signed a three-year, $1.68 million deal with the Giants and won a backup tackle job out of training camp, developing under the tutelage of Solari.
Replacing an injured Justin Pugh, Wheeler started five games as a rookie at right tackle and appeared in 11 games total. He wound up supplanting a struggling Ereck Flowers in the starting lineup at right tackle during the 2018 season and started 14 games for the Giants.
But after signing veteran Mike Remmers in free agency and missing most of training camp with a back injury, Wheeler was waived/injured by New York in late August. He reached an injury settlement with the team on September 6, eventually signing with Seattle’s practice squad in early October.
Starting a player like Wheeler who hasn’t played in a game for more than a calendar year wouldn’t be ideal for the Seahawks, but he does offer significant starting experience. If thrust into the lineup on Sunday, Carroll stated that he simply needs stay within himself and not try to do too much.
“We would tell him to just do what he’s capable of doing. Don’t want to overtry or try to do stuff that’s not within his wheelhouse. He’s a good, smart football player. He’s been in the system and he knows what we’re asking of him. He’s been really solid throughout. The main thing is to ask him to just do what he’s capable and not overreach.”
Seattle will be banking on either Brown or Fant to be available on Sunday, but in the unlikely event both are inactive, the team can take solace in the fact most teams don’t have a player with 19 NFL starts under his belt available to promote from the practice squad. Considering the circumstances, the Seahawks could be in a far worse situation.