As Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome told the Jets before they hired head coach Rex Ryan, the defensive guru can't get enough quality defensive backs. You can't pressure from all angles if you can't cover man-to-man all over the field.
That's why, in addition to upgrading from Lito Sheppard to free agent Antonio Cromartie at the corner opposite all-pro Darrelle Revis, the Jets used their first-round draft pick on cornerback Kyle Wilson out of Boise State. Following the Jets' recent public scrimmage at the end of mini-camp, Ryan said the team is on a mission to reach the Super Bowl and that starts with winning more than the two games they won in AFC East play last season.
That means the Jets need someone to cover New England slot receiver extraordinaire Wes Welker, who caught 15 balls in his only meeting with the Jets last season. Welker was injured for the first game, and his backup caught 11 passes. The Jets also had problems with the Colts' slot receivers in the AFC championship game in Indianapolis.
That's where Wilson comes in. He figures to play a major role in Ryan's nickel and dime defensive packages. "I've been practicing a lot of positions," Wilson said earlier this week when he appeared in Mt. Sinai at a football clinic run by Jets assistant coach Mike Devlin. "Anywhere I can fit in, I'm just eager to get out there and make some plays."
Describing his indoctrination since the draft in April, Wilson added, "The mental part of the game is the most challenging part. You have to learn a new language before you learn a whole new system. But it's all coming around, just learning from experience out there and taking as much as I can from the vets and the coaches. I seem to be doing okay. I just try to limit the mistakes and get better every day."
Ryan's defense is complex in terms of the number of variations possible from the basic formations. As much as it creates confusion for the offense, it also can be confusing to the defense if everyone isn't on the same page with the reads. That was obvious in a few crucial situations last season when ex-Jets safety Kerry Rhodes had miscommunication with safety Jim Leonhard.
"Any little motion or tip from the offense triggers something, so, you've got to be alert to every situation on offense," Wilson said.
The chance to face veteran wide receivers Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards and newly acquired Santonio Holmes in practice makes for a steep learning curve for any rookie. "I go against them every day in practice, and I definitely enjoy it," Wilson said. "I couldn't have a better group of guys to compete against. We talk about how they're trying to attack me because they don't attack the same way every time. I'm learning a lot from them as well as from the guys on defense."
Although Boise State competed in the Western Athletic Conference before jumping to the Mountain West recently, Wilson benefited from practicing against the Broncos' diverse passing offense and playing a wide-open style in the WAC. They certainly proved themselves against big-time competition in the postseason, winning Fiesta Bowl appearances in 2006 against Oklahoma (Wilson made 10 tackles) and last season against TCU.
So, the leap to the NFL is not as great as it might appear for Wilson. "Everybody is just bigger, faster, stronger, but you expect that," Wilson said. "Everything starts to slow down once you get the mental part of the game down and start to understand what you're doing defensively and what's coming at you from the offense."
Throw in the fact that Wilson is a top punt returner, too, and you can see why the Jets had to be thrilled to get him with the No. 29 pick in the draft.