Whether he’s ready or not.
With star linebacker Anthony Barr being placed on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle, Wilson knows he has big shoes to fill as the Vikings look to right the ship after an ugly 0-2 start. Luckily for Wilson, 25, he has experience playing all over in coach Mike Zimmer’s defense, filling in for Barr as well as fellow linebacker Ben Gedeon in the past.
“You know, through my experience, I think the biggest thing is being ready and making sure I know my responsibilities in whichever position that is,” Wilson said. “Just going out and balling and doing my job.’’
While he has some experience as a spot starter — he started four games for the Vikings in 2018, six in 2019 — Wilson has never had an opportunity like this.
He has been a rotational player for most of his four season with the Vikings, and even when he has filled in for Barr here and there, it usually has been for a short period of time. He started for Barr a couple of times last season, for example, and while he rose to the occasion with 23 total tackles in those games, the Vikings had to alter their overall game plan with him on the field.
There’s no way Wilson is going to be able to replace everything Barr does on the field. Not with how Zimmer uses Barr in so many different ways, whether it’s on the line of scrimmage as a pass rusher, or off the line of scrimmage in coverage.
“He’s a great football player,” Zimmer said of Barr. “That leadership and the intelligence that he has, and the way that myself and him can communicate during the game about different things and formations and adjustments, I think that will be a big loss.”
That’s something Wilson acknowledged when talking about filling in for Barr.
“He’s a beast, man,” Wilson said. “He’s very good at a lot of things.”
That said, Wilson is confident he can hold his own if put in the right situation. He has steadily improved since signing with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Cincinnati, going from special-teams ace to a contributor on the defense, and turning some heads in the process.
That might explain why Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel brought Wilson’s name up on his own during a Zoom call with reporters this week.
“He has speed, and he can run,” Vrabel said. “I know Mike will have those guys ready to go. It’s a tough defense to go up against.”
As for Barr’s role moving forward, Wilson is confident he will still be somebody he can lean on no matter what.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot from him throughout my whole career,” Wilson said. “Even though he’s not going to be on the field, he’s definitely still going to be coaching us and giving us whatever knowledge he has that we can apply in any situation possible.”
At the end of the day, though, it’s on Wilson and his teammates on the field to perform. Which is something they haven’t done at a high level so far this season.
“We are upset that we haven’t won,” Wilson said. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t have the personnel to win. We do. It’s just a matter of us going out and not beating ourselves and not taking dumb penalties and being misaligned. Just making sure we do our job like completely in and out.”