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Wheatley not feeling cornered by competition

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / May 27, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — There were some mornings last season when Terrence Wheatley woke up frustrated, and others when he woke up with his body feeling a great deal older than its 25 years.

That’s part of the grind for a player who isn’t playing every week, like Wheatley in 2009, when he saw action in just five games.

The Texas-raised cornerback was hampered by both an early-season knee injury and circumstance; as he got better, other players at his position got playing time, and it was difficult to break back into the Patriots lineup.

Now beginning his third season, the 2008 second-round pick is facing something of a make-or-break year: New England has several young players at corner, including Jonathan Wilhite, drafted with Wheatley; Darius Butler, a second-round pick last year; and this year’s first-round selection, Devin McCourty.

With Leigh Bodden penciled in as the starter on the right side, the quartet of youngsters will be battling for the spot opposite him.

“Every year is a big year,’’ Wheatley said. “I mean, you can’t look at one year as a down year, but I guess if you guys are looking at it that way, I guess it is.

“I’m going to go out there and do what I need to do, go out there and work hard every day and the rest of it will take care of itself. I’m not really worried about what could happen or what might happen, what didn’t happen — I mean, that crap is out of my control.

“All I can do is go out there and practice hard.’’

As a rookie, Wheatley was just starting to put things together, earning his first start in Indianapolis, when he landed badly on his left wrist while breaking up a pass. He needed surgery and was out for the rest of the year.

Last year, Wheatley once again began the season healthy, but this time he hurt his knee in a preseason game. He did play in the third game of the year, against Atlanta, but then didn’t play again until a four-game stretch in November.

Then he was back on the bench for the rest of the year.

“I guess [it is] a bit of a disappointment if you don’t play as much as you want to, but that’s on me,’’ he said. “You have to go out there and perform, you have to go and work hard.’’

He welcomes the competition at cornerback. Not only does it make you better, he noted, but if you’re not up for competition as a pro football player, you’re probably in the wrong profession.

“It’s a challenge for sure,’’ said Wheatley. “You’ve got young guys coming in, but you can’t focus on that too much because if you focus on what other people are doing, you forget what you’re doing.

“They’re here, but I’m not really worried about them. I’m going to do what I need to do to get better, and whatever happens, happens.’’

During on-field organized team activities, there is no contact, so Wheatley and his teammates are working on the finer points of the game this week.

“The main thing for this, if you come out here, you want to focus on communication, really a lot of technique stuff,’’ he said. “You’re not trying to look more forward than that — working technique, working communication, trying to get a feel for the new guys, really just fine-tuning your game.

“So that’s really all I’m trying to focus on, is all the little stuff that I’ve been missing in the game and hopefully that will be the missing piece this year.’’

In a refrain heard more than once yesterday, the 5-foot-11-inch former track standout said he has no goal for this season other than improving.

“I can’t do more than get better every day,’’ he said, “and it’s up to the coaches to put me out there, and then when they put me out there, I have to go out there and make plays and earn their trust and respect, and the rest will take care of itself.’’

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