Jolly Suspension Means Better Odds For Wilson

The indefinite suspension of Johnny Jolly is good news for at least one player. Seventh-round pick C.J. Wilson has a better chance to make the team and contribute as a rookie. We talked to Wilson, who has pass-rushing credentials, last month.

The Green Bay Packers went from needing rookie C.J. Wilson to needing him.

Not that the seventh-round draft pick will be asked to take Johnny Jolly's role. With last year's top pick, B.J. Raji, being inserted into the starting lineup, Jolly would have been demoted, regardless of the severity of the NFL's suspension. With Jolly suspended for at least 2010, it will be up to rookie second-round pick Mike Neal to pick up the slack as the unit's top backup.

Jolly's absence will have a domino effect on the defensive line. Wilson, who would have been in a fight to make the roster because of the depth at the position, now is in better position to make the team and get meaningful snaps.

Wilson knows what it will take.

"Learning plays," Wilson said recently. "For the first week, I learned about 30 plays. That's more than my whole playbook in college. It's a huge deal to learn all these plays. I'm putting the concepts together and Coach Trgo (Mike Trgovac) is doing a great job with the D-line and putting it together for us. It's getting easier but there's still a long ways to go."

In a league that's starved for pass-rushing defensive linemen, Wilson looks like a potential seventh-round steal. Wilson played in all 54 games at East Carolina with 44 starts. He had 11 sacks in his first two seasons before bursting onto the national scene with 10.5 as a junior. While getting extra attention from opposing offenses as a senior, he fell back to 5.5 sacks but tallied a career-high 14 pressures.

Rushing the passer appears to be Wilson's niche as a rookie. Last year, starting end Cullen Jenkins had 4.5 of the defensive line's 6.5 sacks and 25 of the unit's 43 quarterback hits. Jolly had only one sack and nine hits, even while playing frequently in pass-rushing situations. While Wilson's snaps in the base defense probably will be limited, even without Jolly, he has a good chance of getting into the rotation in the nickel and dime packages.

"C.J.'s a guy that's been at end (in base), been at tackle (in nickel) and has some unique pass-rush ability that we like," Trgovac said.

For his career at East Carolina, Wilson recorded 27 sacks and 45.5 tackles for losses.

"College is college and high school is high school and the NFL is a whole other ballgame," Wilson said. "All I can do is just hope and pray and give it my best shot and take coaching and learn from the older guys. We've got great guys here teaching me a lot of things. It's going to be a process but hopefully I can put up some numbers like I did in college."

Wilson made extraordinary strides in college, and not just on the field. He signed with East Carolina in February 2005 but wasn't allowed to join the football program until the spring semester in 2006 because of academic issues. By the time he entered the NFL, he had been selected three times to the Athletic Director's Honor Roll.

Maybe it's because he's been playing piano for far, far longer than he's been playing football.

While Wilson scoffed at the notion — calling it an "old wives' tale" — there's research that shows people who start playing music at an early age are more intelligent as adults. Wilson's official NFL biography called him a "music aficionado and an accomplished piano player."

"I've been playing since I was 3 years old," he said. "My mom taught me. She was a stay-at-home mom while my dad worked. She taught me a little something. She can't even read music. She just told me how to follow a tune with my head so I can play it by ear. I couldn't read music, all I can do is follow it in my head."

Of course, playing piano isn't the same as beating blockers and sacking quarterbacks. The offseason workouts, with their emphasis on learning the plays and the techniques, didn't provide much of a hint on whether Wilson's production at mid-level Conference USA would translate to the NFL. The dog days of training camp will determine whether Wilson does more than just make the team. They will determine whether he will contribute to the team.

"Physically, you know you can do it," he said. "Mentally, that's the tough thing. The NFL is all mental. College was more physical. You've got to get your mind right.

"Everything's on the table. You know the starters are Jenkins and B.J. and Pickett, and you've got Justin Harrell and my man J-Dub (Jarius Wynn). They've got some good guys. All I'm doing is trying to learn from them and help the team. Maybe it's special teams, who knows."

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

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