Last season, the New York Jets found themselves getting burned repeatedly by atrocious safety play. Jim Leonhard's knee injury did not help the cause, but even games that Leonhard started saw numerous blown coverages and missed tackles. Signing LaRon Landry to a 1-year/ $4 million deal was a good start, but the Jets roster is still severely lacking a play-maker on the back-end. With cap space running low, this hole will likely have to be filled internally or through the draft. One candidate for increased playing time will be second-year safety Tracy Wilson, whose athleticism and big-play abilities would be a fine compliment to the physicality of LaRon Landry. For everything you need to know about Mr. Wilson, you're going to have to jump!
Brief Biography: Tracy Wilson was born in Harvey, Illinois a little more than 23 years ago. He played both safety and quarterback at St. Francis de Sales High School, earning honorable mention all-state honors in both his junior and senior year. He decided to stay local for college, choosing the Northern Illinois University Huskies. After redshirting in 2007, Wilson stepped up in 2008, chalking up 43 tackles and recording his first start. In 2009, Tracy Wilson's football career reached new heights, as his name began drawing NFL hype after a spectacular season: 93 tackles (2 for a loss), to go along with 3 defended pass and a fumble recovery. His future looked bright, and he got off to a torrid start in 2010, recording 23 tackles and his first collegiate interception in the Huskies' first two games. However, a hamstring injury forced him to miss 8 games that season, and slowed him down in the games that he was able to participate in. Wilson's overall statistics that year were the worst of his Huskies career, as he racked up only 12 tackles after week 2. Tracy was slated to be the starting strong safety in 2011, but surprisingly entered the supplemental draft, where his name was not chosen. There were rumors that he tested positive for a banned substance and was trying to avoid a suspension, but nothing has been confirmed. Tracy signed with the Jets on August 24, 2011, but was waived two weeks later. He was scooped up to the team's practice squad soon after, and was signed to the active roster on November 28, 2011. He stuck around until the final match of the season, seeing action in each of the final five games.
Why should he be given a chance? Before a serious hamstring injury all but ruined his junior season, Wilson's play on the field was very impressive. He displayed super athleticism and good coverage skills, two traits that the Jets secondary desperately needs at the free safety position. He's great against the run, has a good frame for a free safety, and makes plays all over the field, showing fantastic sideline to sideline speed. Wilson is a versatile defender, able to fill in at both safety positions, and projects to be an above-average special teams player, maybe even as a gunner. Although he was better against the run than he was against the pass during his years at Northern Illinois, he typically avoided giving up big plays, doing a fine job in keeping the action in front of him. Since the Jets decided to cut Gerald Alexander last week, Wilson and Eric Smith are the only two options at the free safety position. I think its safe to say that all Jets fans have had enough of the Smitty experience as the starting free safety, and that Eric is far better off as a special teams ace or as a piece in certain sub-packages. As we know that Smith is not the answer at free safety, I would prefer to give the young guy a chance if he shows even small glimpses of competency during training camp or in the preseason. I fully expect the Jets to draft a safety or acquire one by other means, but in the slight chance that they sit on their hands and neglect the position further, Wilson has to be the favorite to start at free safety next season.
Things to Improve On: Wilson's most noticeable flaw is also the one that is most easily remedied: a lack of experience. He only played two full seasons at Northern Illinois, and never faced top-notch competition as a member of the Mid-American Conference. Although he shown all the skills to be above average in pass coverage, this area of his game still has to considered a weakness. He has shown great closing speed and makes plays all over the field, but he is sometimes fooled by play action and other bootlegs, causing him to be a step behind on some throws. He only had one interception during his time as a Northern Illinois Husky, and may not be the ball-hawk that the Jets should be desperately looking for. One of the most encouraging things about Wilson is that he recognizes his shortcomings, and works to fix the holes in his games. After recording 93 tackles in a fantastic sophomore season, Tracy remained discontent with his performance:
The numbers where Wilson truly measures his season's success are in forced fumbles, interceptions and pass breakups, which he describes as the big plays. Without a forced fumble or an interception and just three pass breakups in the regular season, Wilson wasn't satisfied with his "big-play" production.
"I don't feel like I did as much as I could have done," Wilson said. "I don't feel like I made any big plays. I don't look at it as a great year. I feel like I had a pretty good year. I don't feel like I was a dominant player.
NFL Resume: Wilson NFL experience is extremely limited. As he was picked up halfway through the preseason, he was far behind the other players as far as practice reps go. Wilson was in on 3 tackles in the two preseason games that he did play in, and didn't see NFL action until December. He recorded 5 tackles in his five games, but did not make an impact in any other categories. I couldn't discover any footage of Wilson's NFL reps, but I found this highlight reel of his 2010 season at Northern Illinois to very intriguing...
How he fits into the Jets' 2012 plans: As the roster is currently constructed, Wilson should be in line for significant playing time. Assuming that the Jets do not swing a trade for an above-average free safety, Tracy should be prepared to go into camp battling for a starting job. Even if Gang Green picks up a young safety in the draft, Wilson's experience with the coaching staff should give him an advantage, at least going into the competition. His 6'2'' frame should be very useful in going up against the taller tight ends in the league, and his ideal mix of size and speed can be deadly if used correctly. Wilson isn't particularly valuable in pass coverage, but the tools to be solid in that area are all there, and he should improve greatly with increased reps. As it is, he is already decent enough against the pass to wrestle the job away from Eric Smith, and his physical play against the run make him a very interesting prospect. Even if he concedes the starting job (hopefully to someone not currently on the roster, anyone but Smith!), Wilson will be a useful backup and will be able to make his presence felt on special teams. Tracy just turned 23 a few weeks ago, so his time may be yet to come, but it would benefit Gang Green greatly if they could find cheap value to plug the giant hole at free safety.
What do you think Gang Green Nation? What role do you see Wilson playing next season?