Packers' young DE, Wilson, ready to emerge
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As more competition was added to the Green Bay Packers' defensive line this offseason through the draft and free agency, the more that it motivated third-year player C.J. Wilson.
Wilson, a seventh-round pick by the Packers in 2010, watched as general manager Ted Thompson drafted Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels and signed Daniel Muir, Phillip Merling and Anthony Hargrove.
Despite all of those new players on the roster, it's Wilson who is starting as a defensive end in Green Bay's 3-4 base defensive packages.
"He's grown each year and he's definitely someone that I would see having more playing time this year," coach Mike McCarthy said of Wilson. "He really fits our okie (base 3-4) package and I like the improvement he has in inside rush. He's very consistent, he's stronger (and has a) better understanding of the defense."
Wilson, 25, only started two games last season and two games as a rookie in 2010. But since Day 1 of training camp, Wilson has been the starter in the 3-4 defense and has not lost that spot to any of the newcomers.
"I think I've had an awesome camp this year," Wilson said. "I'm not worrying about who's behind me or what I'm playing for. I'm just worrying about getting better every year and I've been content with where I'm at."
Even before the draft in late April, Wilson had already reported to Green Bay to get a head start on his strength and conditioning work. Knowing that the defensive line struggled last season and that Thompson was probably looking for some upgrades, Wilson stepped up his training.
"Every year your job is on the line, I feel like," Wilson said. "As a lower-round draft pick, it's been a fight every year for me to stay here. (Defensive line) Coach Trgo (Trgovac) told me to come out here early and fight for a job. I came out in March, earlier than most guys came, and have been fighting ever since."
Last season, Wilson played 62 fewer snaps than fellow defensive end Jarius Wynn, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Their grading system gave Wilson a much better rating than Wynn, with Wilson doing well in rush defense but struggling in pass rush.
That's why Wilson is only part of the Packers' base defensive packages and not in on nickel plays. When defensive coordinator Dom Capers calls for a nickel package, which he used last season more than the 3-4 packages, Wilson heads for the sidelines and Worthy enters.
"I feel like right now it's my job," Wilson said. "I go out every day and I want to get better than I was yesterday, because you're either getting better or you're getting worse. If you take that approach every day, you're going to get better."
When Wilson first got to Green Bay two years ago, getting comfortable as a defensive end in a 3-4 defense was not easy. But after a couple seasons of making adjustments, Wilson likes his role now.
"I think it's the best fit for me," Wilson said.
Wilson's performance so far in training camp and preseason has gotten the attention of nose tackle B.J. Raji, who lines up next to him. Raji noticed just how much improvement he has seen in Wilson over the past two years, especially in recent months.
"I think with C.J., all the tools were there," Raji said. "It's just, when you come in this league and you're playing young, you kind of take things for granted. The fact that we've obviously got some depth at this position, that's definitely, you can see it, naturally lit a fire under him.
"He's always been a good player. He had a great season last season. You can tell he's looking to amp his game up to the next level, and so far I've been impressed with what he's doing."
Raji also agreed with McCarthy's assessment that Wilson is a natural fit as a 3-4 defensive end.
"When you're playing that position from a squared up position, you look for guys that have natural, instinctive shedding ability," Raji said. "Ability to get off blocks and do it in a natural way without having a lot of inertia built up going forward. That's what C.J. has that a lot of 3-4 ends don't have. He has the ability to move laterally but the explosion to sit down and shed blocks."
If Wilson can continue to develop at this rate, it will certainly help ease the pressure off of 32-year-old Packers defensive end Ryan Pickett. Pickett is the other starting lineman in the 3-4 defense, but as the 12-year veteran's career continues to wind down, having Wilson ready for this role will help in Green Bay's transition to a younger front line.
"I'm going to take my game to the next level and not worry about nobody else but myself," Wilson said.
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