Competition Pushes Wilson to Next Level

C.J. Wilson, already a key cog on the Packers' defense, is having the best training camp of his career. Wilson was the team's most productive run-stopping defensive lineman last season and is working to become a more well-rounded player.

C.J. Wilson, who for the last two seasons has been arguably the Green Bay Packers' best run-stopping defensive lineman, is having the best training camp of his four-year career.

Wilson chalked it up to "buying into" defensive line coach Mike Trgovac's teachings.

Trgovac laughed when relayed that comment.

"Oh, really? That's news to me," Trgovac said last week. "Yeah, tell him ‘thank you.'"

Instead, Trgovac said Wilson has risen to the occasion. With the return of Johnny Jolly, draft picks invested in Datone Jones and Josh Boyd, and the second-year surge of Mike Daniels, the Packers have far and away their deepest defensive line since the change to Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme in 2009.

"One of the things I've been talking to him about is, I thought the last couple years that he had a slow start to his camp," Trgovac said. "I think he started off this camp faster. It's a product of he sees the competition out there. There's some competition out there. Ted and Mike will have some tough decisions to make, and that's a good thing. Competition helps you."

It's not like Wilson hasn't been productive. A seventh-round pick in 2010, Wilson arrived from East Carolina with the reputation of a pass rusher. He had 27 sacks for his career, including 10.5 as a junior and 5.5 as a senior en route to being named Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year both seasons.

Wilson hasn't panned out as a rusher — he's got 3.5 sacks in three seasons, and his most noteworthy rush was his big hit on Brett Favre that forced an interception in the 2010 game against Minnesota. He has, however, turned into an underappreciated cog of the run defense.

In 2011, he ranked sixth among the NFL's 3-4 defensive ends in ProFootballFocus.com's run stop percentage statistic, which measures impact tackles in the run game. In 2012, Wilson ended Ryan Pickett's three-year run as the defensive line's leader in tackles per snap. Wilson's 9.63 snaps per tackle over the previous three seasons trails only Pickett among the team's current cast of defensive linemen.

"Sometimes, particularly in this defense, we're not made to make tackles," Trgovac said. "Sometimes, we're holding guys up and letting other guys make tackles. The thing that I always say to him is if the guy's in your gap and you're not required to hold somebody up, are you accountable for that gap? C.J.'s been very accountable for the last couple years with his gap if the ball gets into his gap. No one's going to be 100 percent – I don't care if you're in the Hall of Fame – but he works very hard at that."

Wilson's picked up from where he left off last season. Based on league stats, his six tackles are as many as the team's next two defensive linemen combined, and he has six of the 18 tackles from the unit. According to ProFootballFocus.com, he has five run stops. That represents one-third of the unit's total of 15, and he ranks third among the league's 3-4 ends in run stop percentage.

"I take a lot of pride in it," Wilson said. "Most people work on their pass rush. I work on dropping my knee for the double team because that's what I do."

Now, the next step is to become a better all-around player. Being a run-stopping standout is important, but about 55 percent of his snaps the past two seasons have come on passes. He had just four quarterback hits during that span, according to the coaches' film review.

During the one-one-one pass-rushing drill that was conducted daily for the first three weeks of camp, Wilson went 10-7. Daniels was the only other defensive lineman with a winning record.

It's pretty good timing, considering Wilson is entering his final season under contract.

"I'm doing a lot better," Wilson said. "Coach Trgo's doing a lot of drills with us. It's taken me a while to come along with his methods but it really works when you look at B.J. (Raji) being a Pro Bowler and Mike Neal. He's got a great method and I've been trying to take more coaching this year. I'm really buying into his system."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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