The handwritten note in his locker has four bullet points on it:
1. Run to the ball.
2. No deep balls.
4. Have fun.
Rookie cornerback Kyle Wilson will try to adhere to those statutes this week and particularly on Sunday against the Browns when the Jets travel to northeastern Ohio to begin the second half of their season. At the beginning of the year, Wilson was the team's nickel cornerback, but after being "snakebit," as head coach Rex Ryan and coordinator Mike Pettine termed it, he lost his spot temporarily.
"I definitely looked at it positively and I took it the best way that I could," Wilson said. "I studied more, worked out harder and I think I got smarter. I just have a better understanding of how people are going to try to attack me. Just overall going out there and having fun."
The Boise State product has enjoyed watching his Broncos' on-field success, but he didn't think he would be watching from the sidelines as the Green & White burst out to a 6-2 record as well. Now that he's recuperated from his early-season woes, the coaching staff has decided that he's shown enough to be back in the mix.
"Kyle is a guy that I think has strung some good practices together," Pettine said. "In that position, that's a position of confidence, as we talked about before when he wasn't playing. We're going to work him back in the rotation."
"Without question," head coach Rex Ryan said, "I can see him playing more this week."
When Wilson strolls onto the field at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center and looks across the other side of the line of scrimmage, he sees three wide receivers who have over 4,000 career receiving yards apiece. For a rookie coming into the NFL directly from the Mountain West Conference, having to face a former Super Bowl MVP (Santonio Holmes), the Browns' single-season receiving leader (Braylon Edwards) and a veteran with elite possession skills (Jerricho Cotchery) is a daunting task. It's no wonder that after a tough few games and practices, Wilson's confidence was a bit shaken.
"He's a competitor and he's a very high-character kid and you could tell that it bothered him," Pettine said. "Like I said before, so much of playing that position is confidence. He's covering some pretty good wideouts in practice and he was getting beat by Braylon and Santonio and Jerricho and it's great training for him but at the same time it doesn't do a lot to help your confidence covering those guys."
As a result, Wilson didn't get much of a chance to prove that his in-game struggles were an anomaly. In addition, whenever he does enter the game, opposing quarterbacks will see Pro Bowl cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie matched up with their other receivers. When those two ballhawks are on the radar, it's an easy choice to try to pick on the rookie playing in the slot.
"The thing you need the most is to play," Pettine said. "In the NFL it's hard to get experienced when you're in a position where you can't hide. It's not like we can put him somewhere where it's on-the-job training. Given how good our other corners are, whoever goes into that position is going to be an instant target and that's tough for a rookie."
Regardless, Wilson will get another shot at nickel in Ryan and Pettine's aggressive man scheme. His replacement, Drew Coleman, struggled some against Nate Burleson in the 23-20 victory over the Lions, and while the Browns don't flaunt a high-flying offense, they will try to test the nickelback regardless of who is playing there. The rookie has worked on his positioning and technique, which will allow him to track the ball better when it's in the air.
In addition, he's sought the advice of Revis and Cromartie.
"I've bounced stuff off of them," Wilson said. "But getting with Dennis Thurman after practice and watching film the way I need to definitely helps me out."
Thurman, the secondary coach, seems to fit in like one of the guys when he's seen interacting with the defensive backs, and the former eight-year NFL standout is able to connect with the players on a personal and professional level. His ability to help the Jets' 2010 first-round pick will be essential as the year progresses, and especially Sunday against the Browns.