The rise and fall of Eugene Wilson. It sounds like it should be an epic novel.
It's really not. Epic novels are meant for superstars, not players like Wilson, even though the veteran safety has been to the top and back.
Wilson's career began as a starter for the New England Patriots as a rookie, a team that has no qualms about starting a rookie if they can play. The second-round pick out of Illinois started 15 of 16 games for the Pats, and started at free safety in Super Bowl victories against Carolina and Philadelphia.
But the bottom fell out fast, according to patriotsinsider.com's Jon Scott, who has covered Wilson's entire pro career.
"He was injured in 2006, he only played in 4 games and barely had much of an impact," Scott said. "In 2007, the emergence of James Sanders and the return of Rodney Harrison put Wilson's role in jeopardy. Sanders was a fourth-round draft pick in 2005, and assumed a starter's role shortly after his rookie season. His immediate rise coincided with Wilson's fall.
During training camp in 2007, the Pats had Wilson cross-train at cornerback, an apparent nod to the first-round selection of Brandon Meriweather out of Miami. Scott said the Pats were seeking to see if Wilson could handle a role as their nickel cornerback, and he appeared to hold his own.
But a suspension by Rodney Harrison put Wilson back at the free safety position briefly. When Harrison returned, Wilson moved back to the nickel role and was eventually supplanted by Meriweather. Wilson then settled into work in the Pats' dime pass defense packages.
Wilson finished with 31 tackles and one interception in 11 games played, with six starts. But the writing was on the wall in New England, despite a third trip to the Super Bowl. At least it was to Wilson. Scott, on the other hand, had a differing opinion.
"It was a curiosity that Wilson was told that he should look for a new team," Scott said. "The Patriots have huge holes to fill in the secondary and could use a player with Wilson's experience. They obviously felt that with Meriweather, Sanders and Harrison returning for 2008, Wilson would only see reserve duty at best."
Wilson met with several teams before settling on the Bucs, and even then he only signed a one-year deal. There were also rumblings that Wilson was resisting the Bucs' request that he play cornerback. It appears that the Bucs want him to play a similar role in Tampa Bay that he played in New England.
Wilson might be best suited for a nickel cornerback role. Scouts have been impressed with the sixth-year pro's ability to anticipate throws, cover plenty of ground in zone schemes and tackle. He's also considered comfortable in man-to-man schemes, though the Bucs don't play man defense that often.
At 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, he's not the prototypical safety, and nickel corners are typically a bit bigger than outside cornerbacks because they must defend taller, more physical tight ends. Scott said defending tight ends is a strength for Wilson, unless the tight ends are taller and faster, such as Ben Watson, Kevin Boss and Antonio Gates. He also struggles with smaller, quicker receivers.
That's why Scott likes the player, but not an expansive role for him in Tampa Bay's defense.
"He can be a solid addition for depth, but asking him to be a starting corner is asking for trouble," Scott said.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.