Motivated Wilson Feels Prepared For Pros

Posted May 6, 2010

If defensive end C.J. Wilson ultimately succeeds in making a lasting mark as a pro - the Packers’ recent seventh-round history runs the gamut, with starters like center Scott Wells (’04) and linebacker Brad Jones (’09) on one side and an early washout like tight end Clark Harris (’07) on the other - it’s worth noting it could be precisely because of the competition he faced at East Carolina.

By now, all Packers fans have heard about the chip on rookie defensive end C.J. Wilson's shoulder. How he's out to prove that he shouldn't have lasted until the seventh round of the draft, and as grateful as he is that Green Bay selected him, he's extremely motivated to show that he belongs.

Where Wilson's attitude falls on the scale between youthful exuberance and unsubstantiated bravado is up for debate. Some may lean toward the latter with a product like Wilson from East Carolina and Conference USA, questioning the caliber of competition he faced in college and how that will translate to NFL success.

But if ultimately Wilson succeeds in making a lasting mark as a pro - the Packers' recent seventh-round history runs the gamut, with starters like center Scott Wells ('04) and linebacker Brad Jones ('09) on one side and an early washout like tight end Clark Harris ('07) on the other - it's worth noting it could be precisely because of the competition he faced at East Carolina.

Interestingly, two of the biggest one-on-one matchups Wilson had in his college career came against two of the top offensive tackles taken in the 2008 and 2009 drafts - Boise State's Ryan Clady and Virginia's Eugene Monroe. Even though Wilson didn't have a particularly memorable game against either one, the fact that he held his own as an underclassmen against a pair of seniors and soon-to-be top-12 draft picks has given him the confidence that he can play in the NFL, even as he's the first to acknowledge he has a long way to go.

"I had a great career in college, but that doesn't really matter right now because the NFL is a different story," Wilson said. "They've got some great players, and I know it's going to take hard work."

Wilson went head-to-head with Clady in the final game of Wilson's sophomore season and Clady's college career, the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 23, 2007. Wilson recorded just one tackle in the game, but it was a key sack in the first quarter, and it turned out to be East Carolina's only sack of the contest.

It came with Boise State leading 7-3 and facing a third down from its own 23-yard line. The 7-yard loss forced a punt, and on the very next play, running back Chris Johnson bolted 68 yards for a touchdown, and East Carolina never trailed again in eventually pulling off a 41-38 upset.

The following April, Clady was drafted in the first round by the Denver Broncos with the 12th overall pick, and he was a starter for the AFC in the Pro Bowl following the 2009 season.

The matchup with Monroe came at Virginia on Oct. 11, 2008. Wilson was in on three tackles, with an assist on a tackle for loss, in Virginia's 35-20 victory. Again, nothing dramatic in terms of impact for Wilson, and not the best game overall for his team's defense. But it's day-long battles like that against Monroe - who was drafted with the No. 8 overall pick by Jacksonville last year - that Wilson feels have prepared him for the pros.

That game came in the midst of Wilson's best season statistically, when he had 10" sacks among 18" tackles for loss as a junior and earned Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year honors from ESPN. After that, he attracted more attention from offenses during his senior year, when opponents didn't have players like Clady and Monroe to go one-on-one across from him.

"You have to be nasty and very mean at this game," said Wilson, who would seem to have no trouble finding that mode considering how fired up he was waiting seven rounds to be drafted. "This is a very physical game."

Indeed it is, and Wilson's 32 reps on the 225-pound bench press at the scouting combine will help in that regard. Even with that type of strength, Wilson considers himself more of a speed guy for a 6-foot-3, 290-pounder, using that attribute the most to get after the quarterback.

{sportsad300}The challenges for Wilson will come more in the mental and technical aspects of the game, which he recognizes. First, he's coming from a 4-3 defense to Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme, which requires defensive ends to take up multiple blockers against the run and then shift inside to rush the passer in nickel and dime packages.

"I know I can do it, how they scheme things, how they want you to take on the blocks," Wilson said. "Being that I came from a 4-3 to a 3-4, it's going to be a little interesting, but I think I'll get it."

Second, he's entering a level where players watch film five to seven days a week rather than just one or two in college. Any flaw in a player's game, particularly a young player, will be known, noted and exposed, and quickly.

"Technique is everything that makes the difference," Wilson said. "You look around, everybody is fast, you can tell they're athletic, everybody's strong. So it's all about technique and getting in that film room."

So far, Wilson is saying all the right things like that, even if some of the talk about his draft position could be thrown back at him by opponents as a rookie. But Wilson isn't going to apologize for his approach. He'll simply see how far it takes him, knowing he's gone toe-to-toe with at least a couple of the best offensive tackles to turn pro in recent years.

"You have to have that mentality you want to be one of the best," he said. "If you don't, then you're just going to be a guy, and you won't be around too long. I just want to come here and help the team out any way I can."

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