I need to point this out as soon as possible, the "Pack" in Backing The Pack, has nothing to do with the , so some of you can breathe easy...
Backing The Pack is the SB Nation site that covers the North Carolina State Wolfpack, and we had the chance to talk with one of their writers, David Sanders (@Omega__Wolf) about one of the two undrafted free agent corner backs the Chicago Bears signed, former Wolfpack corner C.J. Wilson.
A little later today we'll bring you the Q&A we did with Crimson And Cream Machine, about the other corner the Bears signed, Oklahoma's Demontre Hurst.
Chicago GM Phil Emery didn't draft any corners, so there's a chance either Wilson or Hurst could be sticking around. Here's our Five Questions With David Sanders about C.J. Wilson.
Windy City Gridiron - The Chicago Bears have been known as a Tampa 2 defensive scheme for the last number of years, and new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker plans to keep the scheme intact. Was N.C. State primarily a man to man or a zone defense, and how did Wilson fare in coverage?
Backing The Pack - The Wolfpack primarily ran a zone scheme during Wilson's tenure with the club, and he had experience at both corner back spots and at nickel back in the team's secondary, so he should be comfortable in Tucker's scheme.
Wilson was thrown to the wolves as a freshman and made up part of a porous secondary that opposing quarterbacks torched for a 143.9 QB rating, 106th worst out of the then 120-team FBS. He gave huge cushions to receivers on the outside and opponents happily dunked the ball in front of him for 8-10 yard gains.
Wilson got more aggressive as a sophomore, breaking up eight passes and picking off two more, both of which he returned for touchdowns, but his sophomore season was his lone season that saw him maintain his starting position all year. Rather than developing into lockdown corner, he seemed to regress during his junior season and eventually got passed on the depth chart.
The emergence of David Amerson (a 2013 second round pick of the Redskins after he came out as a true junior) and Dontae Johnson (who, like Amerson, is a 6-3 corner that should enjoy a long professional career) pushed Wilson to a nickel role by the end of his junior season. And redshirt freshman Juston Burris pushed him nearly out of playing time altogether by the time Wilson returned for what was left of his senior year after a surprising academic suspension.
So, to answer the question, Wilson did not fare well enough in coverage to make it on to the field with regularity for a Wolfpack team that went 7-6 last year, though that may have more to do with the strength of his peers and less to do with his own shortcomings, though he is certainly not without shortcomings (see the next question).
WCG - The Bears also expect their corners to help in run support, how is Wilson's physicality?
BTP - Perhaps the biggest reason for Wilson's decline in playing time was due to his lack of physicality. Johnson, the man that wrestled away most of Wilson's playing time, made 70 tackles, including six for a loss, last season. For Wilson's entire four-year career, he made 104 tackles and was credited with just 0.5 tackles for a loss. Generously listed at 5-11, 187 pounds, Wilson is not a hitter and often resorted to a duck and hope they trip over me approach when trying to tackle in space.
WCG - Wilson graduated in just 3 1/2 from North Carolina State, did his school smarts translate to a high football I.Q.?
BTP - I do believe Wilson is a smart (if not tough and confident) football player. Unlike his more-heralded former teammate, Amerson, Wilson was always attempting to cover his responsibilities in a given scheme, never giving up six points after a failed gamble got him beat deep. As noted above, he was tentative at times, playing a little too far off the line despite his ample speed (4.34 40 at his pro day), and he did miss the occasional tackle after the ball was caught in front of him, but you always got the sense that he was coachable, and that he was trying his best to do what the coaches asked of him.
WCG - Wilson was suspended for 4 games last year for not having enough credits during the spring semester, (he was dealing with a family matter), was that the only "disciplinary" concern he had?
BTP - Wilson had a 3.5 GPA in graduate school prior to the semester when a non-football-related matter cost him a quarter of his last season. Due to that off-the-field issue, he only passed six credits. He needed 12 to be eligible. As noted above, Wilson graduated in just three and a half years and, unlike their rivals at UNC, Wolfpack players must take classes that actually meet and have syllabuses. Wilson was probably the last player on the team you would have expected to see get suspended, he showed no character issues, and he handled his decreased playing time with class, supporting both his coaches and teammates. He is a good kid.
WCG - He had an outstanding pro day, showing speed, strength, and quickness, do you think he has the overall football ability to make an NFL roster?
BTP - Wilson's 4.34 40 time certainly jumps off the page, as does the fact that he returned three picks for scores in his career, a mark that ties a program record. Had he been invited, Wilson's 4.34 time would have tied as the second fastest at the NFL combine, and it would have been the low mark among corners. He also did 17 reps of 225 in the bench, a mark that would have been third among corner prospects at the combine.
The athleticism seems to be there, but straight line speed does not always translate into football speed, and, judging from his tackling deficiencies and tendency to sag off in coverage, Wilson's athleticism either did not translate to the football field or he simply did not fully trust his gifts. Despite those gifts, Wilson was lightly recruited out of high school and had trouble holding a starting spot for a middling college team, so I simply cannot imagine him becoming a starter in the NFL. However, if a team thinks his speed could help them in the return game, and if a team likes him in a nickel or dime package, he may well stick on a roster. I will certainly be rooting for him.
Thanks again to David Sanders of Backing The Pack for the in depth look at C.J. Wilson!
More from WCG: 2013 Bears schedule breakdown: Weeks 5-9