Raiders LB Wheeler makes big impact with new team
Philip Wheeler saw plenty of Peyton Manning and his hand signals and gesticulations in his first three seasons in the NFL as teammates on the practice field in Indianapolis.
Wheeler hopes he will have more success dealing with Manning when they meet for the first time as opponents. The Raiders (1-2) visit Manning and the Broncos (1-2) on Sunday in an AFC West showdown.
''I know how good he is and I wasn't really good against him in practice, so hopefully I can change that in this game,'' Wheeler said.
Wheeler said going up against Manning every day helped make him the player he is today, teaching him nuances and intricacies of playing in the NFL that he had never thought of before.
''He made me a great player, just by playing against him, hearing him talk, hear him talk to his offense,'' Wheeler said. ''Like pointing out things against the defense when I was on defense. I was like, `Wow,' he's looking at that aspect of our defense.' He made me a great player just being around him.''
Wheeler helped translate that to the field last week when he had his best game with the Raiders and most productive one of his five-year career. Wheeler had 11 tackles, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and two passes defensed in a 34-31 win over Pittsburgh last weekend.
That's just the kind of performance the Raiders expected when they signed Wheeler as a free agent in the offseason to replace Kamerion Wimbley at outside linebacker.
''He loves playing the game of football,'' coach Dennis Allen said. ''It's fun for him. It's not work for him. He enjoys it, he flies around, he tries to make every play on the field that he can. He's the type of guy that we're looking for. He's done a real good job for us, and we're happy that we got him.''
While Wheeler didn't get to show off all of his skills in Indianapolis under a cover-two defensive system that didn't allow linebackers to be as active around the field, the Raiders believed he could be a defensive playmaker in Allen's system.
He has proven that so far, becoming the first Raiders defender in seven years to force two fumbles in a game and recovering a fumble that turned the tide in Oakland's first win last week.
''We needed that,'' Wheeler said. ''We were naked out there, no turnovers. We didn't have a lot going on defense. Teams were scoring on us. We had enough of it. We wanted to take a ball away. We were stripping at the ball, and we got it loose a couple times. So that was good.''
That kind of play comes as no surprise to Manning, who watched Wheeler grow from a third-round pick out of Georgia Tech in 2008 who began mostly on special teams to a starter by the end of his tenure in Indianapolis.
''Philip was a great athlete,'' Manning said. ''He got there and could really run. I'm seeing the things that I saw when he was in Indy - athletic, covers a lot of ground, plays physical. He's a good player.''
Wheeler said he used to know a few of Manning's audibles in Indianapolis that would let him know what play is coming. But with Manning sitting out last season, Wheeler has forgotten most of them and doesn't expect any inside knowledge to help him this weekend.
Wheeler's teammates said they would try to get information out of him this week but didn't expect it to be much help against a quarterback as experienced as Manning.
''At the end of the day, if you know the answer to the test with Peyton you still can get it wrong,'' linebacker Rolando McClain said. ''He has that ability to check out of things. Him and his receivers they're still trying to get on the same page but when they do they will be pretty dangerous.''
NOTES: DE Andre Carter practiced for the first time since signing Wednesday and could play Sunday. ''He's a veteran player, so he understands how to play the game, so the learning curve for him is not quite as steep as it would be for some others,'' Allen said. ... WR Darrius Heyward-Bey did not practice for a second straight day after being hospitalized with a concussion and strained neck following a helmet-to-helmet hit last weekend. ... DT Richard Seymour (knee) returned to practice and T Khalif Barnes (groin) remained sidelined. ... The Raiders brought back LB Carl Ihenacho to the practice squad two days after cutting him from the 53-man roster and released DB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.
Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL