Ahead of the curve
First round pick Wilson continues to impress with strong Mini Camp performance
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – The sun beat down mercilessly on the practice field at the Jets’ facility Tuesday morning in Florham Park as players, coaches, media members and public onlookers were treated to vexatious 80-degree temperatures.
But no mercury bulb could accurately gauge the play of rookie cornerback Kyle Wilson. The boy was sweltering out there on the turf, effectively melting each veteran receiver and incoming pass that entered his realm.
David Clowney, Jerricho Cotchery..who’s next? Then came the big play.
Quarterback Kellen Clemens launched a deepball which hung up in the middle of the field. Wilson, doing his best Ken Griffey Jr. impression appeared out of nowhere to track down the ball and haul the pigskin into his outstretched arms. It was off to the races from there as the former Boise State Bronco galloped down the sideline and weaved in and out of defenders.
With nearly 60 yards of ground already covered and only one defender to beat, the 23-year-old stumbled out of bounds. But not before the ball was knocked out of his hands by Jets receiver Brad Smith. Live ball.
“Gotta hold on to it,” says Wilson. Just a learning experience. I’ve got to learn from that and keep my hands on the ball.”
So goes the trials and tribulations of an NFL rookie. Kyle Wilson is no exception to the rule, though he sure seems like it to his veteran teammates.
Jets receiver Santonio Holmes first met Wilson before either were members of Gang Green. Wilson prepared for the draft at famed trainer Tom Shaw’s facility in Florida, where Holmes works out regularly during the offseason.
That was where the education of Kyle Wilson began. According to Holmes, it’s Wilson’s strong will to learn which has been the biggest factor in his quick progression at the NFL level.
“He always comes around just standing there and I start talking to him,” says Holmes. “Just teaching him some of the little techniques we use as receivers to beat DBs. He picked up on these keys and he steals them.”
Jets head coach Rex Ryan agrees with Holmes’ assessment of the team’s first-round pick. “His study habits and all that,” said Ryan. “That’s why you’re seeing him progress, a steady climb. We think he’s got a chance to be a really good one.”
Wilson believes that four years in the Western Athletic Conference prepared him invaluably for the offenses of the NFL. Going up against the likes of Hawaii and Fresno State’s powerful offensive attacks on an regular basis was the perfect pretest for the rookie.
“The WAC is a passing league so I’ve played many styles of offenses,” said Wilson. “Run-n-Shoot to power run. You name it, I saw it.”
“I think just playing defensive back, as long as you do your job and stop what’s coming at you, you should be in position to make plays. Yeah in the NFL, guys are a lot bigger and faster and stronger but it’s still the same for your game. As long as you excel at your game, you’ll be in position to make some plays.”
Jets slot receiver Jerricho Cotchery, Wilson’s usual sparring partner in practice is a first-hand witness to the rookie’s transformation. After having his way with Wilson during the early portions of OTAs, the playing field has begun to level off. The fact that Wilson has adjusted so well to Cotchery, one of the NFL’s premier slot receivers is a very encouraging sign. Assuming he is able to hold the starting nickelback spot through training camp, Wilson will reguarly be matched up with slot and inside receivers.
“Legit man, he’s legit,” beams Cotchery. ” When he puts it all together, he’s going to be something special. The thing that impresses me the most is how he gets in and out of his breaks. It’s impressive.”
“He’s ready to go now. I’ve given him every look possible right now up until this point. He’s just been soaking it in. The toughest thing for a cornerback coming into the league as far as technique is being able to see different routes. We run a variety of routes in the NFL and if you haven’t seem them, it’s going to take a while for you to get a good feel for the routes. I’ve been running every route possible. I’ve been giving him every move, every different type of look and release. I’ve been giving it all to him and he’s been responding pretty well to them.”
“Everything’s starting to slow down a little bit, just getting more comfortable, says Wilson. “I’m definitely trying to get better each day.”
For now, he just has to remember to put that ball away.
Following his practice fumble this morning, it was Holmes who was the first veteran to get in the rookie’s ear.
“I ran up to him and I tapped him on the shoulder,” recalls Holmes. “I said ‘You’re a punt returner. In the instincts of being in a crowd of people, what are you going to do? (Expletive) why didn’t you do it just then? You cost us the game just now.’ Even though it’s coming from a guy on the other side of the ball, he’s willing to listen and learn.”