The Patriots traded for a former 310-pound tight end. How will they use him? – Boston Herald


The opposing coaches used to gawk.

Stand and gawk.

Sometimes point, or deliberate how or why or what. But mostly, standing at the 50-yard line, they gawked.

It was the way this 310-pound menace snapped off his routes in pregame warmups, cradled passes and manhandled his blocking assignments. Every movement so smooth and under control. He carried a gravity of attention, like the tallest kid in school.

Except in 2018, new Patriots offensive tackle Tyrone Wheatley Jr. was neither the tallest, nor the heaviest at Stony Brook, a small FCS program on Long Island. He was simply the most mystifying.

How did a 6-foot-6, 310-pound person play tight end? And why didn’t he play offensive line?

Five years ago, Wheatley Jr. transformed Stony Brook’s offense upon arrival, despite showing up late to training camp with an injury and zero experience. He immediately mastered the playbook and tilted it toward a two-tight end system. Wheatley had transferred from Michigan, where he caught six passes over three seasons in the shadow of his father, ex-NFL running back and Michigan alum Tyrone Wheatley.

The Wolverines, according to Stony Brook head coach Chuck Priore, planned to move him to the offensive line that season. But Wheatley preferred to stay at tight end, where he could wring out whatever potential he had left at that position; a decision that brought him to Stony Brook. Priore agreed to keep him at tight end, though both player and coach understood if Wheatley wanted to pursue a future in the NFL — and he did — he would eventually pivot.

Stony Brook’s Tyrone Wheatley Jr. #88 is seen against Richmond during an NCAA college football game on Saturday September 22, 2018 in Stony Brook, NY. Stony Brook won the game. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

“(Wheatley) knew he wanted to play the next level,” said former Stony Brook offensive coordinator Carmen Felus, now an assistant at West Alabama. “And he approached each day, from the meetings walkthrough to practice, as if it was a job interview.”

Wheatley’s position coach, Stony Brook tight ends coach Steve Martino, remembers him arriving this way: “In the first practice we put him out there, the defensive guys were like, ‘Uh oh.’”

Nowadays, Wheatley is among five offensive tackles vying for playing time in New England. The Patriots traded young running back Pierre Strong for him in a 1-for-1 swap with the Browns last week. Wheatley is a developmental player with experience at both offensive tackle spots.

He began converting from tight end three years ago and has since bounced from the Bears to Las Vegas to Cleveland. Wheatley spent all of last year on the Browns’ practice squad. He is now enjoying his first days on a 53-man roster.

But what happened at Stony Brook, Wheatley’s last full season as a tight end, might offer a peek into his immediate future with the Patriots. There, Wheatley established himself as a rare player, and one who projects as a strong culture fit in New England. The Patriots require three traits in their offensive linemen.

First, above all else, is toughness.

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