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Logan Wilson's Voice Speaks Up In Middle Of Bengals Defense With 'Quiet Strength'   

Logan Wilson: Man in the middle.
Logan Wilson: Man in the middle.

Unassuming Logan Wilson, stamped as the Bengals' new starting middle linebacker matched with a fresh-faced defense simmering under the radar, decided to get the Joshua 1:9 tattoo just before he was drafted.

It seems the wrist bands honoring his baby buddy Brooks Anderson kept getting torn off in the middle of the University of Wyoming defense, so he was looking for something more permanent. Wilson asked one of his close friends and Brooks' dad whom heads up his late son's foundation if he wanted to come along.

But Josh Anderson deferred.

"I told him I'm not a tattoo guy, so I'll keep rocking the wrist bands," Anderson says and that's how Wilson went off by himself to do probably the flashiest thing he's ever done.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

"I only want to get tattoos that mean something," says Wilson of his trip to the parlor just before the Bengals took him in the third round last year. "Faith and family right now … All we understand is that no matter where you go, no matter how far it is away from home, like being out here is far away from home, the Lord is always with you."

After a breathless spring had the oxygen sucked out of it with the buzzing about Joe Burrow's rehab along with Burrow's top five reunion with first-round pick Ja'Marr Chase and the flock of high-priced free agents joining his side of the ball, Wilson seems quite at home easing into an NFL middle under radio silence even though he's been entrusted with the helmet communicator.

"That's what my whole career has been like. Nothing new to me," Wilson says. "Under the radar. I don't think I bring attention to myself on purpose."

Josh Anderson, who coached Wilson on the football and basketball teams at Natrona County High School in a sprawling district of Casper, Wyo., can attest to that. After helping Natrona win the Class 4A state title as a sophomore, Wilson proceeded to become a unanimous first team selection at kicker, punter, wide receiver and defensive back as a junior and still couldn't catch the eye of the good people in Laramie, where Wilson really wanted to play for Wyoming.

"He never came off the field," Anderson says. "He played defensive back, corner really, and at 6-1, 160 pounds, our defensive staff would just put him on the biggest, baddest dude and he would just shut him down. He had (six interceptions) his last year. Just a huge all-around player."

Anderson and his fellow coaches were a bit surprised that relatively close schools like Montana didn't join in the interest, which came largely from outsiders such as Weber State and Harvard. But the day after Natrona won the state title, Wyoming, the state's only Division I team, finally called.

Then Anderson saw him go under the radar again when Wilson emerged at Wyoming as a redshirt freshman making the move from safety to outside linebacker and ended up named the Mountain West's Freshman of the Year.

"Through all that, his whole deal was thanking the senior leaders for putting him in the right position and how they taught him and mentored him," Anderson says. "It was never about, 'Hey this is what I've done,' or 'the work I've put in.' It was, 'the product of my success is because of the people that have invested in me.' He's always passing it on to the other people, which is an incredible thing to see."

But Wilson is confident in his own abilities. The Bengals made it pretty clear when they drafted him the hope was he would be running the defense soon and now he is.

"I try not to make too much of it. I just want to do what I was drafted here to do," Wilson says. "I'm a team guy. If it means (like last year) coming in and contributing or (like this year) playing 70 snaps, whatever it is. Whatever the team needs. That's just kind of my mindset."

The team needs him to call the signals in the middle after he broke in flanking 10-year vet Josh Bynes on the outside in largely a rotational nickel role he averaged 29 snaps in his 12 games. He flashed the three-down athleticism, speed and instincts they glimpsed when they saw him on the other side of the line coaching in the 2020 Senior Bowl and now that they've moved on from Bynes, the third-rounders from two of the last three drafts, Wilson and Germaine Pratt, are up.

When Wilson finished with two interceptions and a sack, it marked the first time a Bengals rookie linebacker had appeared in both columns since Odell Thurman disappeared with five interceptions and 1.5 sacks 15 years before.

Wilson missed the last three games of 2020 with an ankle injury, but defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and linebackers coach Al Golden had seen enough to think he can help run the show in 2021.

"You know, he's taking strides that way," Anarumo said this spring. "I made a comment to Al Golden … how well Logan is communicating. And for a young guy, when you think about it, you know, he missed the games he missed last year, didn't have an offseason, didn't have a spring, and so, in a lot of ways, this is just a continuation of his rookie year. And he has really, to this point, done very well, and we continue to see him that way. I think Germaine Pratt is communicating very well also and trying to get guys in the right position, so between those two guys, they've really stepped up so far this spring."

Sounding like the Wyoming redshirt freshman, Wilson continues to pay homage to Bynes like he did last season, when he called him "a walking football library."

"I don't think there's a better guy I could have learned under," says Wilson when ticking off some of the things Bynes taught. "Just a bunch of nuances. Why teams want to run this or how they're going to block this defense against that front. Just understanding to get to a different level within the defense. You can get the basics, but there's always something to get better at. And he did it for, what, 10 years? That's a lot of information."

The way the Bengals play it, Wilson isn't in for anything extremely different in the middle. He did wear the radio helmet in one game as a rookie and he says the biggest adjustment isn't a major one in relaying the call after he hears it in the helmet.

"You need to know both spots. I was rotating in there with Germaine. The Dime. Will. You can call it all sorts of things," Wilson says of the spot next to Bynes. "You have to know both spots. You could be in either spot on any given defense against certain plays.

"You've got to run the show, so to say," Wilson says of the middle, "so there's that aspect of it."

Anderson, who talks to Wilson about everything, has talked to him about this already. They drafted him to run the defense and this is nothing new in his life. He did it as a sophomore in high school on a state title team and he did it when he moved into the middle at Wyoming as a redshirt sophomore on a defense on the cusp of becoming one of the best in the nation.

"Your old hat at this," Anderson told him. "Just continue to do what you do and you'll be fine. People will follow you."

"He's not a rah-rah kind of guy, or a super wild guy, but he's got a quite strength about his voice," Anderson says, "and people listen when he talks and follow him. It's a great thing."

Anderson has lived it through Brooks' death, a sudden, horrific and numbingly mystifying moment that took his first born at 4 ½ months five years ago.

"Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is what they called it," Josh Anderson says of SIDS.

Wilson, going through his own issues during his first year in Laramie, had already been receiving uplifting, spiritual messages from Anderson and he quickly returned the favor.

"When we had our tragedy, he was a magnet over at our house. He was texting and calling and checking in. Any time he was in town he would be there for hours and hours on end," Anderson says. "He played such a major role in our lives. He didn't wait for us to ask. We're so thankful for him interjecting himself in our lives. When we would go to church and share, Joshua 1:9 will be the scripture that always pops up. It's one of those things it's just too much to deny."

Josh and Jamie Anderson have gone on to have two more sons while the Brooks Joshua Foundation has become the center of their lives in the effort to raise money for the national SIDS effort and the community at large. A total of 14 college scholarships ("Books From Brooks") at $2,000 each has been given to local high school seniors.

And the man in the middle hasn't minded stepping up. Wilson literally put the foundation on his soul last season, fetching nearly $1,000 in the My Cause My Cleats game.

One night Wilson called up Anderson to get some information about the foundation before he entered into some video game twitching, a concept that had Anderson clueless. But the next thing he knew, a $5,000 check arrived after Wilson, a video game maven, went into a Fortnite tournament.

And then there was the $1,200 or so a signed Bengals jersey yielded in a silent auction.

Of which was no surprise to Anderson, who has watched people yell Wilson's name when he walks into a Casper restaurant. In a city of 60,000 that has gone 35 years between NFL players, Wilson gets it.

"He's a superstar in this town," Anderson says, "and he understands what he means to the community and the kids coming after him. Last year he came to our … workouts in the summer and he was great with the kids."

Anderson has never seen him turn down a photo ask, even when working out in the Natrona weight room and some freshman DB is looking to leave with some hope and a picture with an NFL player. That includes just recently, when Wilson and his fiancée were moving into their new home in Casper and the kids swarmed him while Wilson signed and posed among the furniture.

"I can't think of a more humble guy than Logan," Anderson says. "He likes being under the radar."

Then Wilson is right where he wants to be. Just like Brooksie's tattoo.

"I don't need attention as long as we're winning games," Wilson says. "My mindset is whatever I can do to help the team win."