He may not have the name recognition of the early first round draft picks at corner in last month's draft like Kansas State's Terrence Newman and Washington State's Marcus Trufant, but Patriots second-round pick Eugene Wilson may have the talents to fill the role opposite Ty Law on the New England defense. Taken with the 36th overall selection, the 5-10, 192-pound Merrillville, Indiana native could be the answer for the young corner the Patriots have been looking for in recent years.
"I think it's pretty much what we expected to see, good ball skills, he's quick and closes well on the ball," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said of Wilson at last weekend's rookie mini camp. "He's a pretty good technique player. He's been in a good system [at Illinois] and has done some things that are similar to the way that we would ask him to do them. Obviously there are some differences and he's got a number of things he's got to work on, but I think he brings a level of confidence, pretty good technique and skills for the position. Hopefully he'll be competitive at that spot with the other guys that are going to be out there."
The other guys that are going to be out there competing with Wilson are veterans Otis Smith, Tyrone Poole, Leonard Myers and Ben Kelly. While Smith is recovering from a torn pectoral that caused him to miss the end of the 2002 season, Poole was brought in through free agency to add some veteran depth at the position. Both Myers and Kelly have yet to prove themselves in limited opportunities to play on an every-down basis.
That said, Wilson would appear to have many of the skills that are necessary to be a starter in the NFL. And as much as he may have the physical makeup, the former amateur boxer and gymnast also seems to fit in with the hard working, team atmosphere that has developed in the New England locker room over the last few years.
"I haven't been around this kind of atmosphere," Wilson said over the weekend. "There is so much leadership and everything. I learned a lot just from today. Coming in from college you think you know a lot already, but there is so much more to learn. So I am going to go into every practice, every day and just try to learn more."
Wilson is also aware of the opportunity he has to learn from the likes of some very successful NFL veterans in Smith, Law, Lawyer Milloy and Rodney Harrison, as well as one of the premier defensive coaching staffs in football.
"I mean those are guys who can really help me," Wilson said. "Coming into a veteran backfield like that and such a good backfield like that, it can't do anything but help me. I look forward to playing with those guys and learning from them."
And he is eager to get to know a group of players that first caught his attention on Super Bowl Sunday two just over a year ago.
"I'd say the first sense I got of the Patriots was when they came out for the Super Bowl and they all came out as a team," the Fighting Illini's all-time leading pass defender said. "That kind of stood out from a lot of other teams and that is something that can carry you a long way. I mean it's something that I am glad to be a part of, a team that is really a team and a close-knit group."