6/3/10 Organized Team Activities
As a rookie cornerback, it's not too bad playing for a team that has two starting Pro Bowl cornerbacks and a defensive backs coach who once led a secondary called "Thurman's Thieves." For first-round draft pick Kyle Wilson, the introduction to life in the NFL has been fairly smooth, and the people who surround him have been able to show him the ropes.
The 5'10", 194 pound Boise State standout has returned to his native New Jersey to fill the nickel cornerback role for this season's New York Jets, and he's also been slotted as the starting punt returner. On the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center practice field during OTA practice today, he seemed to be a natural at both.
"I've been playing a long time. I played a lot of roles all through Pop Warner, high school and college," Wilson said. "I'm used to playing a lot of different positions. I just want to do whatever I can to help out the team."
Wilson seems to know where to be on the field and moves very well, particularly once he corrals the ball on punt returns. He got nearly all of the return reps at practice, had very good form on his catches, and seemed to have a great sense of where the holes in the punt coverage will be. He even caught an extremely difficult ball on the run as the coverage team was approaching, then bounced it outside down the sideline.
"I really fell into it early on in high school and just love doing it," Wilson said. "Just the feeling I get when I touch the ball, I know where the end zone is and I feel that I can score. It comes natural to me and I just try to perfect my technique."
Not only is Wilson feeling comfortable in his new roles, he seems to be fitting in well on the defensive side of the ball and — despite being softspoken in the locker room — with this loud, aggressive and hungry Jets defense. Veteran linebacker Calvin Pace described the transition from college to the NFL as being hard enough on its own but that the Jets defense in particular is a tough group to crack.
"This isn't your conventional team, so to speak, because we preach having fun," Pace said. "We're going to talk and compete against one another, but when it comes down to it we're a team. There are no grudges out here — everyone is trying to make everybody better. I would imagine as a rookie, this probably would be the team that is most unlike college."
Pace believes that down the line there will be increased responsibilities for Wilson, including certain packages that are designed to utilize his strengths. The biggest advantages for Wilson, he said, are the new nickelback's willingness to help the team and the two mentors who start on the outside, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, not to mention secondary coach Dennis Thurman's guidance.
"He came in willing to learn," Pace said. "It helps that he has the best cornerback teaching him and another great cornerback in Cromartie. We're not asking him to come in and be 'the guy.' He's coming in to learn and play his role. I think he's willing to do that."
In the meantime, Wilson will get plenty of work against some of the best offensive players in the NFL. Former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes and former league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson — a great receiver out of the backfield — were added to an offense that already included Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and tight end Dustin Keller. For Wilson, it will be a daily challenge to try to contain those weapons.
"Any situation they have, I want to be out there to help the team," Wilson said. "Whether it is at cornerback or nickelback or anywhere, I'm trying to do my best, be well prepared and know what I have to do on my assignment."
For a rookie, being able to come in and simply fill a role is much less challenging than having to anchor a defense, and Wilson knows that if he covers his assignment, the defensive scheme will work. From nickel back to punt returner, Wilson's versatility and ability to lock in on his job will be a major asset for the Jets.