The new starting middle linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles has heard all the knocks on him not being able to stop the run. And Eric Wilson was ready to respond to the nonsense on Wednesday during his introductory press conference.
Despite making 122 total tackles in his first full season as the starter, Wilson was handed an awful 38.3 grade against the run by Pro Football Focus. Never mind that he caused organized chaos — three interceptions, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble — in 2020 while earning the nickname the “walking turnover” from Minnesota Vikings teammate Eric Kendricks. Obviously, Wilson took the criticism of his run defense personally.
“I can stop the run,” Wilson told Philly reporters. “[ProFootballFocus] is [ProFootballFocus], but I’m a great player, I’m great against the run, great against the pass, I can blitz. I think that’s a great skill set that I have, is my versatility and my ability to make plays all around the field.”
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) April 14, 2021
The 26-year-old signed a one-year deal worth up to $3.25 million with the Eagles. More importantly, Wilson brings experience in new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s system since the 240-pounder overlapped both Gannon and new linebackers coach Nick Rallis during their time together in Minnesota. Their “authentic” relationship will be a key to a smooth transition in Philly, according to Wilson. He’ll wear No. 50 in midnight green.
“It’s very transparent in our communication and I think that’s tremendously helpful for implementing new concepts or being on the same page on the field, in the meeting rooms,” Wilson said. “I’m excited to meet my teammates, to put in work with my teammates, and get to work.”
New #Eagles LB Eric Wilson had 122 tackles (60 assisted – 3rd most in league), he was PFF’s 27th highest graded LB in coverage (65.5) but was 85th/99 against run (38.3). Eagles desperately needed a LB who can cover, they got one in Wilson pic.twitter.com/jLzvJX0Yql
— Chris Infante (@Infante54) April 7, 2021
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Ike Reese Breaks Down Wilson’s Tape
Former Eagles linebacker and special-teams ace Ike Reese broke down Wilson’s tape on a recent episode of the Eagle Eye In The Sky Podcast. Reese didn’t seem to care about the run-coverage concerns, noting that Wilson is a beast in every other area on the field. He and host Fran Duffy looked at 63 “ball-contact plays” within eight yards, including every tackle, every pass break-up, every tackle for loss, sacks, interceptions.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) April 7, 2021
“You know you’re getting a linebacker who is a guy that finds his way to the football,” Reese said. “The one thing I learned at a young age playing that position is you got to have a nose for the ball. And that’s the thing that stands out to me, he finds his way to the football.”
Reese pointed out that Wilson can cover tight ends and running backs in space, one of the most important attributes that a linebacker can possess in today’s NFL. He was thoroughly impressed with his ability to make tackles in open space when he’s in coverage, man or zone. He played all three linebacker spots in Minnesota, too.
What did @Ike58Reese see on film when he studied Eric Wilson?
LISTEN: https://t.co/sESvVe1NFn pic.twitter.com/WAqXBlfoqi
— Fran Duffy (@EaglesXOs) April 14, 2021
“He certainly is a willing participant in the running game and what I mean by that is he doesn’t run around blocks,” Reese said. “He doesn’t shy away from contact. He knows that if he has a certain gap that is his responsibility and requires him to do some dirty work so that someone else can possibly make the play, he is certainly committed to doing that. That’s a trait with linebackers that most coaches want to find out early.
“And then one of the best strengths I saw from him in the running game is he’s usually going forward, meaning that he plays downhill, uses his hands, gets off blocks, and keeping those shoulders square to the line of scrimmage. But where he really stands out is his ability to make plays in the passing game.”
Eagles Getting Veteran Starter at LB
The other important aspect Wilson’s veteran presence in the linebackers room. The Eagles think (hope?) they have a few building blocks in Alex Singleton, T.J. Edwards, Shaun Bradley, Davion Taylor but they are young and inexperienced.
Wilson will be entering his fifth NFL season and started 15 games last season in Minnesota under defensive guru Mike Zimmer. He wore the headset when an injury took out starter Anthony Barr. He’ll be looked at as a Day 1 leader in Philadelphia.
“I think it was a great opportunity for me to really have that experience of calling plays,” Wilson said, “and expressing that leadership to my team and to my defense.”
CLUTCH interception by Eric Wilson!@Vikings have the ball and the lead in the 4th!
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) October 12, 2020