5-22-03, 2:25 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Marvin Lewis has been more direct than a satellite dish since he became coach of the Bengals, and such is the signal he has beamed to Reinard Wilson.
"He feels like I've been an underachiever since I've been here," said Wilson this week as he begins his seventh year in pursuit of the double-digit sack season that has always eluded him. "He's going to push me a little more and make things happen and see what the real Reinard should look like. He feels I haven't really been successful as I could be and he wants me to show I can do the things when I came from Florida State."
The 260-pound Wilson, who is currently backing up both defensive end spots, is going to try to pull off his version of the triple double. After going from a career-high 9.0 sacks in 2001 to no digits (0.0) in 2002, he'll try to get double digits in a new scheme and new support system. Wilson and his $1.5 million salary cap number, garnered after his career year, were supposed to be one of the first victims of Lewis' new regime. No salary drives on this roster.
But Lewis has chosen to send a different message through Wilson. If a guy has the ability and track record to rush the passer, Lewis plans to rehab him.
"We're going to give him a chance to develop in this system to see if he can get back to that," said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "Right now, we feel confident he can get back to that. Don't judge him on the past. Give him a chance in this system. Let him succeed. We think he will succeed."
With the free-agent signings of Duane Clemons and Carl Powell at left end, Wilson, 29, is in the fight of his life. But the one thing he's got going for him is that he's a bona fide speed rusher in a defense now built around pressuring the passer. Frazier already has him penciled into the nickel (passing downs) package.
"We're trying to get our 11 best guys out there in a passing situation and he's one of the best 11," Frazier said. "We're looking for guys who get off the ball quickly and get up field, and those are his strengths."
Wilson may be the first guy in NFL history t lead his team in sacks one year and get none the next. But he doesn't see it as a salary drive. He had arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder about a month before training camp, and he says his snaps were drastically cut back last season when opponents chose to stay in regular formations even on passing downs.
But Wilson said Frazier's system has the flexibility to allow him to get close to the amount of snaps he got in 2001.
"He believes in a lot of pressure, he wants to make sure he puts pressure on the quarterback," Wilson said. "Our defense is set up so we can play run out of nickel, and we can play pass out of nickel. We'll be able to be on the field for third-and-long most of the time."
After watching last season's tape, Frazier thinks Wilson struggled because he came into training camp still hurting with the shoulder. Then as the games rolled on, Frazier saw him losing confidence.
"Once you lose confidence in this league," Frazier said, "guys recognize that and take advantage."
Frazier knows exactly how valuable a pass rush force from the outside is. While he coached the Eagles' secondary last year, he watched 6-2, 280-pound Hugh Douglas rack up 12.5 sacks of Philadelphia's NFL-high 56.
Now, Frazier isn't saying the 6-2 Wilson is Douglas, but there are similar traits.
"He's an overpowering guy from a size standpoint, but he has a very good burst, uses his hands well, and has a chance to be a double digit sack guy."
Lewis, as Baltimore's defensive coordinator, scouted him heavily at Florida State because the Ravens ended up taking Wilson's tag-team partner with the fourth pick in Peter Boulware during the 1997 draft. Wilson left as the school's all-time sack leader with 35.5. He's got 24 in Cincinnati. After spending most of his career in Baltimore under Lewis, Boulware has 59 NFL sacks.
Lewis and Wilson hope to team up here do something likewise.
"It's mainly opportunity," Wilson said. "(Lewis) is telling me to listen to the coaches, try some different techniques, but when I get in there, to make the most of my chances."