As the Jets' first-round draft selection in 2010, cornerback Kyle Wilson joined an already stout secondary. Wilson stood out during his college career at Boise State, earning a starting spot in his freshman season on the 2007 Fiesta Bowl champions. Despite being touted as a top defensive prospect, Wilson struggled to adjust in his first year.
"Last year I didn't know what to do, even though I played the best I could," Wilson said today before the first open practice of training camp at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. "But this year I understand what goes on. It's different."
Transitioning from the college level to the NFL is difficult enough, but it can be even more daunting when trying to learn a complex defensive system at the same time. The Piscataway, N.J., native's baptism by fire did not go as well as he would have liked. In 16 games in 2010, he tallied 21 tackles and five pass deflections.
In addition to acclimating to the speed of the pros and learning a new defense, Wilson also needed to learn his role on special teams. He was called upon to return two punts last season, fumbling both.
"Last year I didn't get to practice it much," said Wilson. "I was spending a lot of time on defense. But I got some game experience, and so far, I'm more comfortable."
Two-a-day practices have been eliminated from NFL training camps, leaving the Jets to spend more time in the classroom. Wilson believes he'll benefit from the increased attention on mental preparation.
"It helps a little bit," said Wilson. "I studied a lot and came in here with a lot of questions. I did my due diligence in the offseason, so I have a better understanding than I did last year."
Besides studying the playbook and familiarizing himself with the Jets' defensive philosophies, Wilson spent time this spring in Arizona training with teammate Darrelle Revis.
"I was working on knowing situations, perfecting my technique," said Wilson. "Overall, just being comfortable out there and playing fast."
There may be no better mentor for the young Wilson than Revis, who has earned a reputation as the league's most dominant corner. This season, Revis has evened moved his locker so that he could be situated next to Wilson and continue to help the young player develop. This afternoon, after Wilson was beat for the first time all afternoon on a short pass over the middle, he immediately approached Revis to correct his mistake.
Head coach Rex Ryan and coordinator Mike Pettine demand that his cornerbacks play relentless man-to-man defense. Revis and Antonio Cromartie have proven to be indispensable parts of the defensive machine. Wilson hopes he can continue to push his way up the depth chart, perhaps being a reliable corner in nickel coverage. Wherever the coaching staff decides to play him, his objective is to make the starting lineup.
"That's my goal," said Wilson. "Obviously, that depends on how well I do in practice, but that's definitely a goal I'm trying to achieve this year."