Chad Wheeler had a seemingly Herculean task in his first NFL start.
The undrafted free agent New York Giants offensive lineman started at right tackle in Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. His assignment: Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston. Houston is a four-time Pro Bowl selection and owner of the Chiefs’ single season sack record (22 in 2014).
Houston has 7.5 of the Chiefs’ 19 sacks this season. Wheeler, whose natural position is left tackle, was understandably nervous going up against a player of Houston’s pedigree.
“It was intense,” Wheeler said. “He’s a savvy veteran and has a variety of moves. He’s pretty quick. I just had to say in front of him.”
Wheeler, who played collegiately at USC and signed a three-year, $1.68 million contract, said that the nervousness disappeared as the game went on.
The Giants used their seventh offensive line combination in 10 games due to injury. Manning wasn’t sacked or hit by the Chiefs, allowing him to use his legs to make plays when necessary and giving him perhaps the best protection he’s seen also season. Wheeler also teamed up with tight end Rhett Ellison for a key block that led to Orleans Darkwa’s one-yard touchdown run, the only touchdown of the game.
Head coach Ben McAdoo said Wheeler had a “quiet day”, as good a compliment an undrafted rookie can receive when matched against one of the NFL’s best linebackers.
Wheeler showed that he can be depended on against the Chiefs. The Giants will need him in the Thanksgiving night game against the Washington Redskins. Offensive linemen D.J. Fluker (toe) and Justin Pugh (back) have already been ruled out.
“I think preparation was a big key to it,” Wheeler said of his performance against the Chiefs. “We have a great group of guys. They have faith in me and I have faith in myself.”