Ravens' Wilson finding his comfort zone

Transition was slow for cornerback, but he's coming on fast

December 17, 2010|By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun

In the time it took Josh Wilson to scamper 12 yards to the end zone Monday night in Houston, he went from student to star, from cautious corner to big-play defender.

Just like that, the four-month transition that started when the Ravens traded for the veteran cornerback in September got its formal seal of approval. The Maryland native had some awkward moments at first, but his growth has been steady if not spectacular since moving from the Seattle Seahawks back home to the Ravens.

"I'm progressing every game," Wilson said Friday. "Now I understand everything that is going on around me. I know what the [defensive calls] are, I know what we're going to do. Before, I couldn't make the check without depending on somebody else to tell me what it was."

The cross-country trip introduced Wilson to a new defensive culture in Baltimore. He was used to turnover in Seattle, where he learned a new defense under a new coordinator almost every year. But he wasn't ready for the Ravens' playbook, not in its entirety.

"I was definitely out of my comfort zone," he said. "I was definitely not in a comfort zone at all. It was more playing not to mess up than playing to make plays.

"Every time we changed coordinators [in Seattle], you were given one defense a day, or three defenses a day. Here, I was given the whole playbook. I had to learn everything in a short period of time, and a lot of the defenses we didn't run every day in practice."

He drew a holding penalty in the opener, pass interference in the fourth game and got beat for a touchdown along the way. But when the Ravens benched slumping Fabian Washington after a win over the Miami Dolphins in Week 8, Wilson was a starter at right corner.

He enjoyed his coming-out in his fifth straight start in Houston. He not only made the game-winning play, he broke up three passes and delivered seven solo tackles.

With the New Orleans Saints due at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, Wilson's emergence couldn't come at a better time.

"He really played well the whole game," coach John Harbaugh said about Wilson's performance in Houston. "He had a bunch of PBU's [passes broke up], was in the right place, played [his] technique.

"I thought he and Webby [Lardarius Webb] both played really good technique. Josh played excellent technique. Webby was probably over 90 percent on his technique. For Josh to play that way, and for Webby to continue to grow — Chris [Carr] has been playing well all the way — that's really a good sign for our defense. Hopefully, we can build on that against this great passing offense this week because this will be a big challenge that way for those guys."

To be fair, the 5-foot-9 Wilson gave up his share of passes to the Texans' 6-3 Andre Johnson. But he was never daunted.

"I'm definitely at a comfort zone now," Wilson said. "And I'm going to the next step now, putting in different things that I can do, little things that I want to tweak or disguise better to make more plays."

No play that a Ravens' defender made this season had a more stunning impact than Wilson's pick-6 against Houston's Matt Schaub.

"I don't think I've had a bigger moment in my career, a bigger play for my team," Wilson said. "People talk about me smiling and looking so happy [when he scored]. I'm telling you, like I said, I really couldn't believe that. When you're a kid, when you loved sports, you always wanted it to be the bottom of the ninth, two out and hit the home run to win the game. That's basically it, that's what happened. You can't beat that."

At the University of Maryland, Wilson, the son of former Houston Oilers fullback Tim Wilson, was known for his blazing speed — he was timed in 4.25 at his junior pro day — and his kick return ability.

But when Wilson got to the NFL, he became a play-maker on the corner. He and Saints safety Darren Sharper are the only players with four touchdowns off interceptions over the past three seasons.

Wilson has three interceptions this season for the Ravens and nine for his career. His other touchdown returns came against Detroit's Matt Stafford and St. Louis' Kyle Boller last year, and San Francisco's J.T. O'Sullivan in 2008. Those returns covered 61, 65 and 75 yards, respectively.

But Monday's was special because it was only the second time Wilson can recall an interception return ending a game.

"I remember listening to the commentary on the plane back and the announcer said, 'You rarely have a walk-off interception,' and that's true," Wilson said. "How many more times will it ever happen in my career? I remember in Seattle, it was a dark day when [Matt] Hasselback came to the coin toss in Green Bay in the playoffs and told 'em 'We want the ball and we're going to win.' And the first play, Al Harris intercepted and returned to the crib.

"That rarely happens in the NFL."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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