Monday, August 10, 2009

Wilhite making his move in Patriots' secondary

(This so far has been almost exclusively a Red Sox blog since the end of football season in December, but look for more Patriots coverage in this space as training camp continues and the regular season begins.)

Last Thurday's Union Leader story about the Patriots' two second-year cornerbacks focused primarily on former second-round pick Terrence Wheatley -- mostly because Wheatley was the only one of the two who happened to be on the field on Wednesday. If you don't practice, you're not available to the media, and Wheatley therefore was the only guy available to tell the story of his offseason.

But Jonathan Wilhite has been back on the field since Thursday, and he appears to be rising up the depth chart ahead of Wheatley as well as, possibly, free-agent signee Leigh Bodden.

"He’s got a good variety of skills, and that’s always valuable when you can do different things with the same player," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "That helps him match up against different receivers, some fast receivers, some quick receivers, different guys that can run after the catch."

With Springs out, in fact, Wilhite has received extra reps with the first-team unit and had more of a chance to show what he can do.

"It's an opportunity for all our cornerbacks," he said. "It's a chance to go out and get some physical reps and play against some good receivers."

Springs actually has taken Wilhite under his wing a little bit, not treating the second-year corner as competition as much as a younger brother with a desire to learn the game.

"Shawn helped me out a lot," Wilhite said. "The guy has been in the game a long time, so he gives me pointers and things in the meetings and even out on the field that's going to help me down the road. I'm blessed to be in that situation."

The best piece of advice he's gotten?

"Be patient," Wilhite said. "This is a fast game, and he told me just to trust my ability and be patient."

But Wilhite might not have to be patient much longer. He played his way into the starting lineup by December of his rookie season, starting the team's final four games and even intercepting a pass against the Oakland Raiders. He finished the season with 28 tackles -- just six behind Adalius Thomas and ahead of Jarvis Green and Mike Wright.

"It was a dream," he said. "I got a chance to go out and compete and show what I could do. The guys around me -- especially my safeties, James (Sanders) and Brandon (Meriweather) -- helped me out, got me lined up, and I just tried to play ball."

Eight months later, does he see himself as a starter?

"Not at all," he said. "I see myself wherever they put me. Right now, I'm with the (first team), but that doesn't mean anything. It's training camp. Depths charts change every week, so we'll see what happens."

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