FOXBORO, Mass. — Tavon Wilson says he has a lot to learn in the NFL. He’s got the right players around him if knowledge is his goal.
Safety is one of the few position groups with a surplus of veteran leadership in New England. Adrian Wilson is the eldest of the group, but even he relies on Devin McCourty to lead the way.
“I’m not a leader. I’m just following Dev’s lead,” Wilson said. “I’m learning. Still learning. Dev is the leader of the secondary. So I’m just following behind.”
This is Wilson’s 13th NFL season. Steve Gregory has been in the league for eight years, McCourty for four, Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner for two and Duron Harmon and Karnorris Davis are rookies.
Tavon Wilson is trying to take on a leadership role, even though McCourty is a defensive captain and the leader of the secondary.
“Obviously I’m not the youngest in the room, but I’m still one of the younger guys in the room,” Wilson said. “But if Duron has a question, he can come ask me and I’ll feel comfortable enough that I can answer it. Or I can go get an answer for him. We kind of take the leadership role as a collective group.”
So far, Adrian Wilson and Gregory are sharing first-team reps next to McCourty, who has one safety role locked down. Tavon Wilson and Harmon are taking the majority of the second-team reps, with Ebner, Davis and even Marquice Cole (who usually plays cornerback) cleaning up the rest of the snaps.
Even though McCourty will mostly play free safety in the Patriots’ defense, the complex system forces safeties to learn both the free and strong positions. Depending on what coverage the Patriots are running, either safety could be playing back deep, up in the box or even covering running backs and tight ends one-on-one at the line.
Tavon Wilson embraces learning so many roles, because it allows him to see the field better around him.
“It just helps you understand everything else that’s going on around you,” Wilson said. “Makes you learn the defense as a whole. Makes you better as a player. To know where everyone else is on the field, you know what you can do and what you cannot do.”
Adrian Wilson has even taken some snaps in a linebacker role during minicamp. Wilson’s by far the biggest safety on the team at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds. He said Friday that padded practices help when he’s playing in the front seven.
“Depends if you’re in the front seven,” Wilson said. “We play a lot of different positions. So, sometimes we are, sometimes we aren’t.”
While Gregory and Adrian Wilson are sharing first-team reps early, one would have to assume the goal would be to have Tavon Wilson ascend up the ranks. The Patriots took him No. 48 overall in the 2012 NFL draft.
Even if Wilson doesn’t get the starting role, he’ll still have a place in the defense. He played the “money” defensive back position last season, playing the opposite side of the slot in dime packages. Adrian Wilson can play a similar role, so when there are six defensive backs on the field, it’s likely one of those players would be up near the line and the other would be back deep. Adrian Wilson was taken off the field late last season in obvious passing downs, so it’s possible he won’t be playing much in the Cover 2.
The rookie Harmon seems to be locked near the bottom of the depth chart with so many veterans around him, but he’s been working heavily in special teams. He and Ebner may be battling for one role.
There’s plenty of competition at the position this season, but Tavon Wilson said he’s already improved his knowledge of the game this year. Bill Belichick has said before it really clicks for some players from Year 1 to Year 2.
“Mostly just my knowledge of the game,” Wilson said about improving on his rookie season. “And just understanding the whole defense and knowing what we got going on here. I just have to keep on learning. I’m still not there yet. I just gotta continue to learn.”
Wilson may have one more year to learn the defense behind Gregory and the elder Wilson before he’s forced to step up and play next to McCourty.