Undrafted rookie Chad Wheeler gets brief look at left tackle with starters

Rookie Chad Wheeler, who uses his hands well and has had a strong camp, appears to have cemented himself as the second-team left tackle. Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It may have been for only a few plays but the New York Giants had a left tackle other than Ereck Flowers protecting Eli Manning's blindside during Wednesday’s practice.

It was the first time this summer that Flowers wasn’t working with the rest of the first-team offensive line. Undrafted rookie Chad Wheeler stepped in and took three reps alongside left guard Justin Pugh.

“I wanted to look at him,” Giants coach Ben McAdoo said of his reasoning for the unexpected switch.

It’s a noticeable move because the Giants aren’t taking a look at sixth-round pick Adam Bisnowaty at right tackle or anyone other than Pugh or John Jerry at guard. They have taken an extended look at center Brett Jones with the starting offense over the last week.

That's not to say Jones is in contention to start over Weston Richburg. He's not. The same likely goes for Wheeler and Flowers at this point, especially after Wheeler was met with a rude introduction working with the starters. On his first snap, defensive end Olivier Vernon beat him with an inside move. Wheeler grabbed his jersey. The official on the near sideline threw his flag, presumably for holding.

“He jumped in there and got beat like a drum on the first play,” McAdoo said. “After that he hung in there nicely.”

The next two plays were a run to the opposite side and a play that was quickly blown dead after a poor snap.

Wheeler, 23, was a four-year starter at USC. He had been enjoying a strong training camp. He uses his hands well and had cemented himself as the second-team left tackle, where he had been matched primarily against backup defensive end Kerry Wynn and rookie Avery Moss.

Right now, Wheeler appears to be the Giants’ contingency plan in case Flowers doesn’t show improvement.

Flowers struggled badly in his first two professional seasons. He allowed the second-most pressures among offensive linemen last year, according to Pro Football Focus.

The summer hasn’t exactly quelled any fears. After an offseason during which the Giants commended his work ethic and improved conditioning, the technique flaws that plagued him his first two years have still surfaced at times. Flowers’ hand placement and balance (caused by his raised hips) remains an issue. He was beat clean off the ball by Moss on one snap Tuesday.

McAdoo did note last week that he thought Flowers was “making progress.”

The success of the Giants’ offense could depend on the offensive tackle position. They have the weapons (especially after adding wide receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Evan Engram), but if Manning doesn’t have sufficient time it will not matter.

The Giants are taking a long, hard look at their options on the left side this summer. Flowers is the first option; Wheeler is the second.

Right now there doesn’t seem to be a left tackle competition, but it’s definitely something to monitor as the summer progresses after Wheeler snuck in a few first-team reps on Wednesday.