EAGAN, Minn. – Eric Wilson has gained a bigger role in Minnesota's defense each season since joining the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2017.
This year is turning out to be no different.
The Vikings will rely more on Wilson than ever before after placing Anthony Barr on Injured Reserve because of torn pectoral muscle.
Wilson previously had been a starter in Minnesota's base defense in place of Ben Gedeon, who is on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform. With Barr out for the season, the Vikings are likely to move Wilson to strongside linebacker and have he and Eric Kendricks on the field in nickel packages. Eden Prairie native Ryan Connelly, whom the Vikings signed earlier this month, is at weakside linebacker behind rookie Troy Dye on the unofficial depth chart that was updated Tuesday.
"Through my experience, I think the biggest thing is just being ready and making sure that I know my responsibilities in whichever position that is and just going out there and doing it," Wilson told Twin Cities media members on Wednesday. "Just going out and balling and doing my job."
In 2018 and 2019, Wilson played 32 and 35 percent, respectively, of Minnesota's defensive snaps. That number is certain to go up considerably during his fourth NFL season. (He has played 74 percent of the Vikings defensive snaps over the first two games).
Wilson understands the significance of losing Barr for the year. He referred to his teammate as "a beast" who carries a lot of weight.
"He's very good at a lot of things. In college he played a lot on the line of scrimmage and sometimes he goes on the line of scrimmage [here]. He causes havoc and gets QB pressures and sacks," Wilson said. "And he can also do it from off the line of scrimmage, and he calls the plays for our defense, too. So we've got to make adjustments there. He does a lot of different things."
Barr won't be making in-game calls for the remainder of the season, but his know-how will continue to guide Wilson as he shoulders extra responsibilities.
"I've definitely learned a lot from him throughout my whole career," Wilson said. "He's definitely still going to be coaching us and giving us whatever knowledge that he has that we can apply in any situation possible. So even though he's not on the field, he's still going to be there with us, helping us."
The Vikings may be shorthanded at linebacker, but they refuse to make excuses.
After a rough 0-2 start to the season, Wilson emphasized that it's the duty of each and every player to step up and help right the ship.
"[We] might have to play less-experienced guys, but we all have to be ready to go, be ready to play and be ready to do our job at the highest level possible," Wilson said.
It's no secret that Barr and Kendricks, who roomed and teamed together at UCLA before reuniting in Minnesota in 2015, have a unique chemistry between them. But Wilson also has built a strong rapport with the linebacker duo both on and off the field. From film breakdown and communication before and after practice, to (pre-pandemic) offseason travel, they've become extremely close.
Kendricks and Wilson don't just share a first name; mentally, they're usually on the same page. And that will bode well for them come game day.
"Our communication is really [good]. I think through whatever has happened, we both have that experience of calling the defense and knowing the adjustments," Wilson said. "Just having two guys that can do that really well is very helpful for our defense. I think that is very important for people to be able to communicate regardless of the situation.
"Me and EK get along really well," he added.
Wilson and Kendricks will face a big test (literally) on Sunday in Titans running back Derrick Henry.
At 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, Henry is larger than both Wilson (6-1, 230) and Kendricks (6-0, 232).
"I think it's important to make sure you don't try to just hit him and truck stick him. You have to make sure you wrap up," Wilson said of Henry. "If he's 20 pounds heavier, that means you have to get some leverage. You have to make sure you're coming to hit him and not just absorb the tackle.
"Also, we have to have more than one person tackling him," Wilson continued. "We have to have guys swarm to the ball. If we do that, we'll be fine."
Wilson is known for his tenacity and explosiveness on the field. When the helmet comes off, though, he's all smiles. The linebacker genuinely has fun playing, and it isn't uncommon to hear his laughter from the sideline or in a hallway of the team practice facility.
Minnesota's back-to-back losses are no laughing matter. But Wilson also understands that it's important for the team to not allow itself to get too down mentally. Rather, the focus remains on correcting mistakes, making adjustments and getting a win on Sunday.
He explained the Vikings mindset:
"When we go into a game, we're not preparing to lose and we're not thinking we're going to lose," Wilson said. "We expect to win every single game, so after we've lost these first two games it can be kind of upsetting. I think that's the best way to put it. We are upset that we haven't won.
"That doesn't mean that we don't have the personnel to win. We do. We have the coaching to win," he added. "It's just a matter of us going out and not beating ourselves and not getting dumb penalties and being misaligned. Just making sure we do our job completely."