After dropping an interception in the Chiefs’ 34-19 win over the Arizona Cardinals in their preseason opener, rookie inside linebacker Ramik Wilson was fuming.
As a fourth-round pick this year, his roster spot was probably secure. But Wilson understood the importance of every preseason snap and that the road to playing time would not be easy, especially with a pair of experienced players blocking his way.
“I don’t want to miss opportunities,” Wilson said. “I want to show my coaches and my teammates I can make the plays, I can help the team.”
You can make a good argument he proved that during the Chiefs’ four preseason games. Wilson started all four because of Josh Mauga’s heel injury and led the team in tackles with 15.
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“He’s had a great opportunity, of course, with Josh being out, but even before Josh was out I thought he did a really nice job,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “He’s got a million things he’s got to work on, but I think he’s got some natural instincts and he’s pretty competitive.
“He’s kind of had a knack for getting his hands on the ball throughout the OTAs right on through (camp), so I think those are all positive things. He’s got to learn the little nuances of each defense as he goes forward, but I think we’re really excited about him. I think he’s got a bright future.”
Wilson is happy with his pass coverage skills — “I’m pretty good,” he said — but added that he is still working diligently on his gap discipline against the run.
“I’ve got to get better in my run fits,” Wilson said, “but other than that, I’m going to be just fine if I keep working and listening to coaching.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Wilson split reps with Mauga as the starter next to Derrick Johnson in Sunday’s practice, and noted that if Mauga is healthy, Mauga would probably be the starter for the season opener against the Houston Texans on Sunday.
It’s a decision likely rooted in the experience gap between the two, as Mauga is a sixth-year pro who started all 16 games last year and recorded 103 combined tackles. He signed a three-year deal to remain in Kansas City this offseason.
“We also got to remember, Josh is still about 800 snaps ahead of him in this defense — I mean, Josh played 1,100 snaps last year,” Sutton said. “So I think he’s going to be able to get back on that horse pretty easy and go.
“But you know, we’ll see. I think everybody’s comfortable with Ramik. If that happened and Josh wasn’t 100 percent or wasn’t back, then we’ve got to go forward.”
Sutton later added that Wilson also displays natural instincts and inline quickness, qualities that general manager John Dorsey has been touting since his selection.
“He is everything we thought he would be,” Dorsey said. “We thought he could run to the football, we thought he did play the passing game as we thought he would play the passing game. Again, linebackers have to open up their eyes, and he opens up his eyes playing the position and sees a lot of things.”
Dorsey noted Wilson’s passion for the game, which is evident when you consider he wouldn’t even let himself off the hook for the dropped interception against Arizona, even after he redeemed himself by hauling in an interception off a tipped ball later in the game.
“I should have had the first one,” he still says, begrudgingly. “(Allen) Bailey told me I’m acting like D.J. because one season he dropped like seven interceptions.”
On one hand, Wilson doesn’t want the rep for dropping interceptions that D.J. — Derrick Johnson — gained early in his career.
But on the other hand, Wilson made no secret of his desire to become as good as Johnson is one day
“It’s like having another coach out there,” Wilson said. “He plays so fast and understands everything. He knows what a play is before the quarterback even hikes the ball. That’s crazy.”
What’s more, this is a common occurrence with Johnson, he said.
“All the time,” Wilson said. “He talks every play. He’s letting me know (what’s coming). If a run comes his way, he’s going to spill it to me or box it. We’re just always talking and communicating. It’s like having another coach out there.”
Wilson let out a healthy laugh when asked if he could do that during his collegiate days at Georgia.
“I was not able to do that,” Wilson said. “I mean, Derrick. He’s different. He’s a different type of linebacker. He’s something special.
“Hopefully one day, I can get to that.”