Wilkerson Seizing the Day

The head coach knew he needed a big play. It was the fourth quarter in the most important game of the season, and he looked down the bench for someone who could go in and deliver. His team held a small lead, and getting a defensive stop was crucial to winning the game. The coach spotted Jimmy Wilkerson, a young second year player with little experience but loads of potential. He called for Wilkerson to go in the game at right defensive end and told him to pin his ears back and rush the passer.

On second down Wilkerson got around the offensive tackle and pressured the quarterback into throwing an incomplete pass. Third down . . . Wilkerson again beats the tackle and gets the sack, forcing the punt.

Coach Bob Stoops of the Oklahoma Sooners congratulated Wilkerson as he ran off the field. The Sooners would go on to defeat coach Bobby Bowden's Seminoles for the National Championship that night.

Wilkerson has been making the most of his opportunities on the field ever since. He went on to start 24 games, including all 14 games his junior year, and was named First-Team All-Big 12 by the NFL Draft Report. Skipping his final two years of college eligibility, Wilkerson was one of the youngest players drafted. The Chiefs selected him in the sixth round, and even though he needed some time to develop as a pro, he shared the Chiefs Mack Lee Hill Award for outstanding contribution from a first year player with Kawika Mitchell his rookie season.

In his third year with the Chiefs, the same year most players his age are just getting drafted, Wilkerson has snagged the starting right defensive end position from former starter Jared Allen. Head Coach Dick Vermeil downplayed the promotion a bit when asked if Wilkerson would start, "He might. He deserves a reward." Vermeil continued, "Wilkerson has been doing everything right, sometimes not better, but consistently right. You give him a reward [by] putting him up on a run defensive scheme, and [putting] Jared a little more on a pass defensive scheme."

However, in the following day's practice after coach Vermeil's comment, Wilkerson took all the snaps with the first unit—run and pass—while Jared Allen took some reps during pass rush situations at the left defensive end position, giving Eric Hicks a breather. Allen participated in position drills with the second team unit exclusively and totally dominated the second team offensive linemen. Many have speculated the move might be a way to motivate Allen and may not be permanent. Also, who knows what impact newly acquired defensive end Carlos Hall could have at the position if healthy? We will know soon, though. Hall is expected to return to practice on Monday following the game with the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night and should challenge Wilkerson and Allen at the position for starting time.

Still, since his promotion, Wilkerson has been even better in practice, and is doing all he can to hold on to the job. "They (the coaches) told me this is how it's going to be," said Wilkerson. "I don't look at it as coming in to take someone's spot. My goal was just to come in and have a better training camp than I had last year. So far that's happening, and everything else is just falling into place."

Defensive end Lionel Dalton has seen a change in the new starting end's play during this preseason, "Wilkerson has really matured this year. I think he's had a great attitude this camp. I've seen it in his play and in his work ethic. He's doing extra stuff after practice, and he's definitely taking this very seriously. I'm looking forward to seeing how he performs in the [upcoming] preseason games." Dalton added, "He went to California to work out with a trainer that he worked out with after his rookie year, so he's really been focused. He started working out the week after last season was over. He knew this was a big year for him, and I'm happy for him and hope it works out for him."

When asked about his off-season workouts, Wilkerson replied, " In the off-season I've been working really hard trying to get bigger, stronger, so I could come out this year and dominate." Wilkerson added, "I met my trainer through my agent, and he works with a lot of big name professional athletes. He's a good guy. I have worked with him in each off-season since my rookie year."

Having covered the Sooners' during their National Championship season of 2000, I can attest that Jimmy Wilkerson is a fierce competitor. When Carlos Hall begins practicing next week, he is going to have to be very productive to wrestle the starting spot away. This position will be fun to watch as the season nears, to see which of the three is in the line-up facing the New York Jets in week one of the regular season. Regardless, the Chiefs finally have quality depth at the defensive end position.

WarpaintIllustrated.com Top Stories