Versatile LB Eric Wilson earning larger role with Vikings

Two weeks into the season and the Minnesota Vikings’ Eric Wilson is getting himself noticed.

An undrafted free-agent signing in 2017, Wilson has mainly played on special teams for the Vikings. In Week 1 against Atlanta, it was Wilson who blocked a punt, and eventually recovered the ball, which helped swing the early momentum towards Minnesota in an eventual 28-12 win.

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“He’s been really good, very smart guy, very situationally sound, too,” special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf said. “(He) makes the proper adjustments in the game, helps coach up the other guys, get them lined up as well. I think the other guys do a great job of getting lined up themselves, but he’s been a really good core player for us, somebody who’s contributed on every phase. I think the best thing about him is he’s raising the level of other guys next to him, which is important.”

The linebacker also played a little bit on defense in that game, but only saw seven snaps.

That changed in Week 2 against Green Bay. With Ben Gedeon sidelined with a groin injury, Wilson got the start at weakside linebacker, and impressed.

He made four tackles, three of which were solo, and helped stuff Packers running back on a third-and-1 early in the second quarter. He also had a quarterback hit.

It’s not a total surprise, though. Wilson started four games last season and had 336 defensive snaps in total, the majority of those (308) coming in six games (at the Jets, vs. Saints, vs. Lions, at Bears, at Lions and at Bears). He tallied 42 tackles (31) solo, four TFL, five QB hits and two sacks.

“You look back to last year, Eric had to step in and play different positions on the second level at linebacker, and it’s really a credit to him, his attention to detail, how smart he is to be able to play multiple positions in the different packages that we have,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “We’ve come to realize that he’s that type of player and he’s shown the ability to be able to handle those things.”

Wilson has proven adept in coverage as well. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers only attempted one pass in Wilson’s direction as well. Last season, Wilson allowed only 5.0 yards per target and 5.9 yards per completion.

With Gedeon still hurting and Anthony Barr not practicing Thursday, reportedly he, too, has a groin injury, the Vikings are going to need Wilson to step up again this Sunday against Oakland.

“That’s critical,” Edwards said of Wilson’s coverage ability, “especially with all of the motions and shifts that we’re getting, especially this week against Oakland with the matchups of the different personnel groupings and those kind of things. It’s good when you have that versatility as a linebacker.”

Wither the tight ends?

Minnesota took Irv Smith Jr. in the second round of this year’s draft and also held onto veteran Kyle Rudolph.

Naturally, it was expected that the tight ends would be heavily involved in the Vikings’ offense. But after two games, the pair have been mostly silent.

Rudolph has been targeted five times, with three catches for nine yards. Smith has two targets, with one catch which lost a yard.

Of course, quarterback Kirk Cousins has only had 42 pass attempts in two games.

“Certainly at the tight end position it’s our goal to get those guys involved,” offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski said. “I think this ball game maybe plays out differently than the previous one, or maybe it doesn’t. I think we have to go in with a plan of attack, and then the ball goes where the defense dictates it should go.”

Awaiting Hughes

Minnesota has been awaiting the 2019 debut of cornerback Mike Hughes, who tore his ACL in Week 6 last season.

“He’s been practicing, just as he has throughout. He’s moving around good, so it’ll be interesting to see how he progresses throughout the course of the week,” Edwards said.