The day after the Chiefs’ season-ending win over the San Diego Chargers, rookie receiver Albert Wilson was already talking about the offseason, and how he planned on improving.
“I’ll probably leave sometime this week, and I’ll probably be back within the month,” Wilson said. “Just to get (down) the mental part of the game and pound the playbook with the quarterback that’s probably here.”
Though Wilson was upset the season had come to an end — like the rest of his teammates, he hoped for a playoff berth after going 9-7 in 2014 — it’s hard to blame him for being excited about a rookie year that was a success.
After a prolific college career at Georgia State, Wilson signed with the Chiefs in May and immediately set about opening eyes in organized team activities and training camp. An ankle injury early in the season stifled his progress for a while. But after injuries rocked the Chiefs’ receiving corps, Wilson earned his first start in week 14 against Arizona and caught four passes for 53 yards and never looked back.
For the season, Wilson caught 16 passes for 260 yards and continued to flash the explosiveness that made him a camp standout.
“Words can’t even describe how happy and proud of myself I am for taking full advantage of the situation I was in and becoming the person I know I can become,” Wilson said.
But at 22, he’s still a young player, which means that process is still underway. For instance, the 5-foot-9, 200-pound Wilson is eager to start building up his body in the weight room this offseason, just so he’s better equipped to deal with the dings and dents of the season.
“I have to get stronger, first of all,” Wilson said. “I have to eat the weights.”
Wilson also knows he has to continue to study Andy Reid’s voluminous playbook, a process that tends to get easier in year two for young players.
“The mental part of the game is a huge part of it, and that’s something I’m still adjusting to, just being mentally tough and mentally knowing everything,” Wilson said.
Wilson, however, will also mix in a unique twist during his offseason preparations. In addition to getting in the weight room and pounding the playbook, he plans on studying some more tape of Baltimore receiver Steve Smith Sr., who serves as a football role model, of sorts, because they’re roughly the same size.
“Steve Smith, man, that’s who I base my whole game off of,” Wilson said. “I feel like being a small receiver, they’re quick to put you on the inside. I feel like he made a statement that he can play anywhere on the field. And you don’t need to be 6-4, 220 pounds to be your ideal receiver.”
At age 35, Smith Sr. — a five-time Pro Bowler — had yet another strong season with 79 receptions for 1,065 yards and six touchdowns.
And while Smith’s hands and route running have made him a star the last 14 years, Wilson said he appreciates Smith’s competitiveness more than anything.
“He’s the most competitive person I’ve watched, ever,” Wilson said. “From practice interviews to playing on the field, he’s always competing.”
But does Wilson have some of that in him?
“Of course,” Wilson said quickly. “Like everything he does, I’ve tried to base myself off of it. I see where he went with his career. He’s been playing multiple years, I’m trying to play multiple years. Our weight and height is similar. Why can’t I do it? Why can’t I do it?”
Wilson’s receivers coach during his last year at Georgia State was Keary Colbert, who played with Smith while both were with the Carolna Panthers.
“He gave me their one-on-ones and stuff that I can really study that you can’t find on just regular TV or YouTube,” Wilson said. “I could watch the same one 15 times, and there’s probably something I can learn every time I watch it.”
Wilson is aiming high, for sure — Smith is a possible Hall of Famer — but at the very least Wilson is a young player with upside at a position where the Chiefs have plenty of need.
“I think we all saw in training camp what he could offer,” general manager John Dorsey said. “He had the setback with the ankle ... then the last quarter of the season you began to see what we saw — a guy who knows how to play the game of football. It’s not too big for him, he can catch the ball, he can run after the catch.”
Dorsey said the expectation for Wilson next season is to simply increase his production. When asked whether he views Wilson as a No. 2 receiver, he said the team will wait until training camp to make that determination.
“He’s got a chance to be a pretty good player,” Dorsey said. “I think what you do is you watch him grow in the offseason. Watch him in training camp. In my heart of hearts, I know what I think he can be and I think he’s a pretty good player. I think he has a chance to grow and get better, and with David Culley as his coach, I feel very strongly that he can develop into that.”
So while Wilson will allow himself to revel in a solid rookie year, he knows that if he is to fulfill his potential — and be mentioned in he same breath as Smith one day — he still has a lot of work to do, and Culley, the wide receivers coach, is going to help him get there.
“Coach Culley thinks I held my own … he thinks I progressed pretty good for how young I am,” Wilson said. “He just let me know that there’s room to get better.”