Back when training camp opened, before the players had even settled into their dorms, Pro Bowl strong safety Adrian Wilson was the story after agreeing to restructure his contract and taking a paycut. Such was the price to stick around the Cardinals, and that was something that was very important to Wilson. “I’m in it for the legacy,” he said. Flash forward to this past week, when Wilson — who had played all but one of the 542 defensive snaps the Cardinals had his first eight games of the season (he didn’t play in the Philadelphia game because of an ankle injury) — was taken out of certain packages.
The coaches decided to use Rashad Johnson and James Sanders, the duo that had replaced Wilson and did pretty well in that Eagles game, in nickel-type packages. Wilson still played the majority of the game, finishing up playing 41 of the Cards’ 73 defensive snaps in Atlanta (and celebrating William Gay’s interception, pictured below.) Sanders played just 17 snaps, Johnson a mere 12. But it was Johnson who noticeably was the starter in the game because the Cards opened in the nickel and that got even more attention when Johnson grabbed a tipped pass on the game’s first play for an interception.
The explanation for Wilson’s demotion was simple and not specific for coach Ken Whisenhunt. Whiz noted after the game the move “worked pretty well,” adding “It was consistent with our message to the team and I think our team rallied behind that.” Monday, Whiz complemented Wilson’s ability to deal with the change. “It’s never easy, but Adrian’s a real pro and he handled it well.” Whisenhunt praised the play of Johnson and Sanders against the Eagles, and also against the Falcons. “We’re trying to win games,” Whisenhunt said. “We’re trying to get better and those guys played well (in Atlanta).”
(Defensive coordinator Ray Horton doesn’t talk until Fridays and I’m sure the question will be raised about Wilson’s role then.)
As for Wilson, he has handled it well. He doesn’t have much to say about it, saying only “That’s a head coach question” when asked about the move. But it’s not like he is snapping at reporters trying to ask. Is he happy? I’m sure not. A-Dub is a proud man. He’s never been shy to criticize himself when playing poorly but that doesn’t mean he is OK with it or even that he agrees all the time that he is playing poorly. He certainly wants to be on the field as much as he can (Wilson played the most defensive snaps in the NFL last season.) This situation is a little more difficult, since his new restructured deal includes incentives that are, by definition, harder to reach if he is playing less. With the way the defense performed, I don’t expect the Cards to change back, at least not this week.
Yet I can’t see Wilson doing anything but making it work. “I can’t put my heart into another team like I have this team,” he said in July, and that investment is more than a decade in the making.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, James Sanders, Ken Whisenhunt, Rashad Johnson
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