Wednesday, September 26, 2001

At long last, Wilson can defend effort

Return to end, playing time help ex-top pick

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Reinard Wilson was listed as the No.4 right defensive end on the Bengals' depth chart when training camp opened in late July.

Baltimore Ravens running back Terry Allen can't break free from Cincinnati Bengals' Reinard Wilson during Sunday's game.
(John Sommers/Reuters)
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        It's not so much that he feared for his roster spot, but how could he not receive a message, especially with the team having spent its top draft choice on defensive end Justin Smith?

        Whatever the case, it has brought out the best in the 6-foot-2, 272-pound Wilson.

        The fifth-year veteran is off to a splendid start, totaling 10 tackles (six solos, four assists) and a team-high 1.5 sacks in the Bengals' first two games, both victories.

        He has been better at helping stop the run and pressure opposing quarterbacks.

        “I'm playing good ball now, but I can get better,” Wilson said. “Everybody can improve. I'm never going to get complacent and say I'm playing the best I can play. One game this year I'm going to end up getting three sacks; you just don't know which one it's going to be.”

        Why the sudden improvement? At least two reasons:

        • Wilson is back playing defensive end, his natural position. During his first three seasons, the Bengals used Wilson as an outside linebacker because of the 3-4 defensive scheme they used.

        • He is getting his most playing time since his second year in the league.

        Defensive line coach Tim Krumrie has another theory: There is more competition than in years past for playing time.

        “People looking to take your job always brings out the best in everybody,” Krumrie said. “I think that raised the level of play in all my guys.”

        The Bengals thought enough of Wilson, Florida State's all-time sacks leader at the time, to select him in the first round — 14th overall — in the 1997 NFL draft.

        The team immediately set out to change his position. It seemed to work OK when he tallied three tackles in his first NFL game, against Arizona. By his second season, Wilson was a full-time starter, and he went on to have his best year with 63 tackles and a team-high six sacks.

        But Wilson's playing time decreased in 1999 when he was used mostly in passing situations. In 2000, he moved back to defensive end, getting most of his playing time in passing situations.

        “The year he was coming out, he was clearly one of the most explosive players as a defensive end that you could ever imagine,” said Jim Lippincott, Bengals director of pro/college personnel. “He seemed to be on top of quarterbacks in college football faster than they could put their fifth step in the ground.

        “We really, truly believed that he had the athletic ability to convert to linebacker and be a pass rusher, and it didn't work out that way. We erred in judgment, but we've corrected it, and now it's paying off.”

        Wilson said that as he watched last year from the sideline, he thought he could be more productive than some of the Bengals playing ahead of him.

        “I knew if I was out there, I could've made a difference as far as pursuit of the ball or making some extra things happen,” he said. “A lot of the guys were injured or kind of aching or older guys.”

        Wilson, 27, figured he again was destined to play in passing situations and on special teams this season. Then he began to climb the depth chart.

        Smith, the projected starter, was a holdout. Jevon Langford was released Sept.2, and John Copeland (hamstring) was placed on injured reserve Sept.6.

        That left Wilson as the No.1 right defensive end. He has started both games and must perform well to keep his spot. Langford was re-signed Sept.6 and Smith signed a six-year deal Sept.8. (Copeland was released from the injured reserve list with an injury settlement Sept.10.)

        “It's about opportunity,” said Wilson, who is in the last year of a five-year contract. “I'm on the field more. My second year, I was on the field more and I led the team in sacks. This year ... instead of playing 10 to 12 snaps, I'm playing a lot more of the game. So you get more into it.”

        Bengals staff members are seeing the player they hoped for when they drafted Wilson.

        Said Krumrie: “You make plays, you're going to play, and everybody knows that.”


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