PITTSBURGH – He's just about there, Cedrick Wilson is.
Last Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, Wilson, the Pittsburgh Steelers' No. 3 receiver, got behind the cornerback and the free safety by at least five yards. It was the quick double move that's been working in practice so often of late; Wilson used it to lead the field.
If Ben Roethlisberger hadn't underthrown him, the 46-yard gain that led to a field goal would've instead been an easy touchdown and a 21-0 lead.
Wilson came close to another touchdown the next quarter. He was open at the pylon, but again the pass was a bit flat. It allowed cornerback Leigh Bodden time to recover and knock it away at the last instant. Again, the Steelers kicked a field goal.
So close, but yet so far from the production Wilson expected. He has only 26 catches, but leads the Steelers with seven catches of 25 yards or more. He's also first with an average of 17.3 yards per catch. Yet, he's the whipping boy of the need-a-deep-threat set. They point to the fact that Wilson has yet to score a touchdown this season.
But to those who've watched Wilson regain the practice magic of his early camp days, and to those who've watched his last two games, Wilson is close to becoming the weapon the team thought he'd be.
"Going from flanker to the split end position, I've learned that it's a totally different game," he said. "I played flanker in San Francisco and I'm playing split end here. At flanker, I was able to get off the ball, go in motion on different plays, things like that. At split end, I don't get to do those things so I've really got to work my splits and stuff like that, but I think I've really come into my own."
When Wilson opened training camp, he was hailed for his precise routes, quickness, jumping ability and hands. Then he got bogged down in learning the new position, with his role as a third receiver and with his limited opportunities in a run-oriented offense. Then, Wilson complained about the lack of opportunities to a newspaper – twice.
Is Wilson still frustrated?
"Well, it's not as frustrating as losing," he said. "Winning helps everything, and I think that's where my biggest frustration came in. We weren't winning doing the things we were doing. Now that we're winning it's really hard to complain.
"As a pro, especially playing on offense, everybody wants statistics. Even playing on defense you see guys like Joey Porter and Clark Haggans and Larry Foote, Troy Polamalu, those guys want to blitz so they can get stats and that helps their stats and that helps them become Pro Bowlers and things of that nature. You can't just make tackles and make the Pro Bowl. It all goes hand in hand. You want statistics so you can be rated as one of the best in the league at your position and definitely guarantee yourself another year of playing this game. That's the reason you want statistics, but the ultimate goal is to win games and that's what we're doing right now."
If the Steelers are to continue winning, the passing game -- and Wilson in particular -- must be at the ready. The Steelers under coach Bill Cowher have a history of leaning too heavily on the running game in the playoffs and not having a polished passing game on which to fall back when opponents take the run away. But the Steelers appear to be sharpening that element. Roethlisberger has been looking for Wilson more often in practice, and it's showing in games.
"We are coming around," Wilson said. "And we can throw the football with any team in this league. Our record isn't 15-1 but we're going in the same direction that we were going in last year, and right now we're playing good football. Other teams, the ones that had great records, they're losing right now. I think we're at the point where we want to be. We've got a ton of confidence and, going into the playoffs, that's what you need."