CINCINNATI (BVM) — Drafting Heisman Trophy-winning LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick has unquestionably been the biggest boon for the Cincinnati Bengals this year. But the defense also sorely needed to be addressed for a team that went 2-14 and finished near the bottom of the NFL in most defensive categories last season.
That’s where former University of Wyoming standout Logan Wilson comes in.
The All-American linebacker was perhaps the biggest addition the Bengals made to their defense during the offseason when they selected him with the first pick in the third round of the draft. Wilson is projected by ESPN to be the Bengals’ starting strongside linebacker for the 2020 season.
But the Natrona High School (Casper, Wyo.) grad is still only a rookie in a league full of players who were all stars on college teams, and like all first-year NFL players, he’s making a big transition from college to the pros. Learning an entirely new defense is one of the biggest changes Wilson had to face in his first NFL training camp.
“In college I think things are a little bit less complex so guys can fly around and play football whereas in the NFL it’s your job,” Wilson said in an SI.com video interview. “So (the defense) can be more complex and there’s going to be more nuances to learn.”Wilson said the speed of the NFL game and the overall level of talent on the field has also required some significant adjustment.
“Linemen come off the ball a little faster than they do in college,” Wilson said. “There’s not a bad football player on the field by any means. That’s just the nature of the NFL. Everyone is good at this and it’s just going to take some getting used to for sure.”
In college, Wilson became one of the best linebackers in the nation after redshirting his freshman year at Wyoming. He started every game he played for the Cowboys — 52 consecutive from the first game of his redshirt freshman season to the last game of his senior season. Wilson finished with 421 career tackles, which are the fourth-most in the history of the Mountain West Conference.
In Cincinnati, Wilson will be counted on right away to make a big impact for defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s unit. The Bengals were consistently run over last season to the tune of 2,382 rushing yards — the most any team allowed — under first-year head coach Zac Taylor. The 6,299 total yards the Bengals gave up were the fourth-most in the NFL. Wilson figures to play a big role in defending both the run and the pass. He had four interceptions in his senior season with the Cowboys and 10 over the course of his college career. But Wilson wants to become a better defender in the NFL, particularly in man-to-man coverage.
“That’s just something I didn’t do very much at Wyoming and something that I need to continue to get better at here and reach a level of consistency in it,” Wilson said. “It’s a lot easier said than done. We’ve got some really good backs here to go against in practice and there’s a lot of good backs in this league in general.”
As part of their defensive overhaul this past offseason, the Bengals added several new linebackers aside from Wilson, with 10-year veteran Josh Bynes being the most experienced of the group. Bynes’ presence has been particularly valuable for Wilson.
“He’s like a walking football library,” Wilson said. “He’s the smartest player I’ve been around. He knows so much football. There’s a reason why he’s been in the league for so long. He’s played with a lot of guys in a lot of systems and learned a lot of football. I’m just going to piggyback off of him and try and learn as much as I can because he’s about as smart as they come.”
Time will tell how quickly Wilson learns the ropes of the NFL, but he won’t have much time to get his feet wet like rookies usually do. Unlike most NFL seasons, there are no preseason games this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But Wilson isn’t letting that affect how he prepares for the big role he’s likely to play in the Bengals’ defense in his first year as a pro.
“One of my big things that I try to do is just control what I can and that’s something that’s been out of my control,” Wilson said. “That was what the NFL and the NFLPA came to was no preseason games and so I’m just trying to get better each and every day and that’s kind of my mindset as I’ve gone through training camp.”