The New England Patriots drafted two promising rookie safeties this year in Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner, with both showing potential this preseason with strong training camps. Wilson and Ebner figure to be players who will get a look at the “money” hybrid linebacker charged with covering the opponent’s tight end.
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Wilson, in his NFL debut against the New Orleans Saints, proved his worth in coverage by hanging with one of the most dangerous weapons in the league in tight end Jimmy Graham. An ideal “money” linebacker, Wilson is fluid in coverage with above-average speed and has great ball skills.
With Ebner being more of a project player at this point, Wilson is the likeliest of the two to receive significant time in three safety looks. He is behind Steve Gregory at free safety on the depth chart, and the question is how much playing time he will get against the Tennessee Titans today.
The Titans feature one of the best downfield threats at the tight end position in the NFL in the explosive, 6’5″ Jared Cook. A physical specimen, the Titans are high on Cook and the 25-year-old is expected to have a breakout 2012 season after showing flashes thus far in his career.
Strong safety Patrick Chung is a little nicked up, which means that Tavon Wilson should be in line for more snaps. This means that we should expect to see Wilson matching up with Cook in various situations as the “money” guy.
The release of veteran linebacker Bobby Carpenter is also a factor in Wilson’s role, as Carpenter was the team’s sub-package coverage linebacker who made a big impact on third-downs. Fellow rookie Dont’a Hightower will be asked to cover Cook on the strong-side at times, but Wilson is more adept to cover a tight end with Cook’s speed and ability to stretch the field vertically.
Without Carpenter as the team’s coverage linebacker in sub-package situations, expect Wilson do get significant snaps in the “money” role against the Titans. This would mean an interesting NFL regular season debut for Wilson, as he would likely be covering Cook in more than a few situations.
It’s just a thought of what the Patriots could do today against the Titans, and I must note that it isn’t something I have heard that they will be implementing. It’s merely just an idea, but I think it’s an interesting one to ponder. How would Wilson stack up against a quality tight end in this league in coverage and how should he be utilized going into the season?
As always, I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments section.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.