Linebacker Wheeler Brings Athleticism, Confidence to Colts
INDIANAPOLIS – Philip Wheeler figures maybe one of his dreams will have to be delayed for a while.
Not forever, he said. And maybe not for long.
Wheeler, a linebacker from Georgia Tech, was the Colts' second selection in this past weekend's NFL Draft. The Colts' selected him in the third round, and to listen to players who have played and practiced against Wheeler, he is a player with uncommon athleticism.
He also is a guy with a dream. To own a Lamborghini.
It's something he said he planned to fulfill when he was drafted, but he said this past weekend – as his draft status slipped a touch from where he originally expected – he ratcheted back his expectations.
Or, rather, he put them on hold for a time.
"That was if I was going to go first or second round," Wheeler said with a laugh during a recent interview for this story, the second of a nine-part series on the Colts' 2008 draft class that will run on Colts.com in the coming days.
Now, Wheeler – who like the rest of the Colts' 22 drafted rookies and free agents is spending this weekend at the team's rookie camp – said that dream can again provide a bit of motivation.
"I'll probably get one sooner or later, depending on how well I do," he said. "I plan on doing very well with the Colts. I think it's not too far out."
Dreams aside, Wheeler said his focus this week and in the coming months is not on cars, but on preparing for an NFL career, and on honing what teammates and opponents say is uncommon, exceptional athletic ability.
"I'm familiar with him," said Colts rookie tight end Tom Santi, who played against Wheeler while playing for the University of Virginia. "I met him at an ACC event. He's a good guy. I'm looking forward to being teammates with him.
"He's definitely an athletic guy. He was definitely prolific in their blitz-oriented defense and getting to the passer. He's a great talent."
Wheeler (6-feet-2, 240 pounds), considered by many analysts and observers to be one of the top blitzing linebackers in the 2008 NFL Draft, is a versatile player who started three seasons for Georgia Tech. Recruited as a defensive end, he moved to outside linebacker before moving inside as a junior.
"We think he can play multiple linebacker positions," Colts President Bill Polian said shortly after choosing Wheeler with the 30th selection of the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft, the 93rd selection overall.
"He did there (at Georgia Tech). He runs 4.7 (seconds in the 40-yard dash), which is what we expect of our linebackers. He played in a blitzing defense there and obviously will play in a different style here, but we're very confident that he can make the transition."
Just how athletic is Wheeler? Former Georgia Tech safety Jamal Lewis called him a "freakish athlete."
Former Georgia Tech defensive lineman Joe Anoai, an All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection in 2007, said Wheeler is just as athletic as former Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the No. 4 overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.
"Philip Wheeler does as many sick things as Calvin does, believe it or not," Anoai told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution during the 2006 season. "His balance is incredible."
Wheeler, a two-time second-team All-ACC selection, finished his career at Georgia Tech seventh on the school's all-time career sacks list with 19. He had seven sacks in 2007, 10th in school history. He bench-pressed 350 pounds in his on-campus workout this off-season, and had a vertical leap of 39.5 inches with a broad jump of nine feet, five inches.
"I think I'm very athletic, more so on the field," Wheeler said. "I have good hands. I'm flexible and I jump pretty high for a guy my size. I think I'm a pretty athletic player and I show it when I play. I try to use all my athleticism on every play and just try to play ball."
Still, Wheeler said he doesn't rely on athleticism. He began studying film seriously while a first-team Class 4A All-State selection at Columbus (Ga.) Shaw High School, where he said the head coach, Charles Flowers, emphasized film study.
"He made us write notes on film," Wheeler said. "He had a sheet and his good players – his elite few players, our leaders – he would have us sit down, watch film, take notes, tell him what we saw, what numbers we had to be lined up over: 'Tell me what he does, tell me what his weaknesses are.'''
It's a focus he said he maintained throughout college.
"I feel very prepared, because I'm a guy who likes to watch film a lot, study a lot," Wheeler said. "I know a lot about defense, thanks to (Georgia Tech defensive coordinator) Jon Tenuta. He taught me a lot about how to break offenses down, how to run a defense. I think he prepared me for football.
"It's fun trying to manipulate different ways to attack an offense."
For now, Wheeler's task in the coming weeks is to translate his college experience and his athletic ability to the NFL. He said he doesn't yet know what position he will play with the Colts – inside or outside backer – or how exactly he will contribute at first, only that he wants to do so as soon as possible.
"They haven't told me where I'll play, but I think I'd rather have it be somewhere I can have a lot of responsibility," Wheeler said. "I want to have responsibility so I can show what I can do and show how good I am.
"I don't know exactly what to expect yet. I'm just trying to get ready for a great experience."