*EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – *Vikings linebacker Eric Wilson is focused on making the most of every opportunity given him.
He made his pro debut Thursday night when the Vikings defeated the Bills in their first preseason game.
“It was awesome to actually get in my first NFL game,” Wilson said Saturday afternoon. “Even though it was preseason, it’s nice to get out there and just do what I do – play football. And really, prove to the coaches that I know what I’m doing and I’m ready to play in the NFL. It was awesome.”
While he experienced some pregame jitters, he quickly settled in to the game’s rhythm.
“I wasn’t seeing the things that I needed to see at first,” Wilson said. “But eventually the game did slow down for me, and I was able to see more pullers and flashes and things that I should be seeing.
“We practice tough situations every day, so I think our coaches did a really good job preparing us,” he added.
Wilson played 37 defensive snaps, and he seized the opportunity. The rookie led Minnesota with six tackles (four solo) and added two passes defensed and a special teams tackle.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer played Wilson mainly at middle linebacker which he said is “probably a little out of position” for him.
“We’re trying to get looks at [Edmond] Robinson and [Emmanuel] Lamur and getting [Ben] Gedeon at the Will,” Zimmer said of the weakside slot. “So he’s playing a little bit out of position, but he can run around and hit, and I thought he did good on special teams.”
Wilson nearly came away with an interception when he got his hands on a tipped ball by Robinson.
“Like a lot of these young guys, they semi go the wrong way,” Zimmer said. “He kind of dropped to the other side. So, it’s still kind of a learning process in [pass] coverage with those guys.”
It’s a process that Wilson doesn’t want to take for granted.
From Zimmer, to linebackers coach Adam Zimmer, to the older guys in his position room, Wilson is soaking in all the advice that he can. He mentioned that Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Lamur have been incredibly helpful for him and the other young linebackers and are constantly willing to “hand down” the experience they’ve gained.
After two-plus weeks in Mankato at his first NFL training camp, he identified his biggest takeaway as rooting himself in the basics.
“[They do] a great job of just teaching us the fundamentals,” Wilson said of Mike and Adam Zimmer. “That’s something that they said, as soon as you get tired, your fundamentals start to go. So having a strong foundation is very important so that you can keep those fundamentals going even when you’re tired during a 2-minute drill in the fourth quarter.”
Wilson’s journey to the NFL didn’t go exactly as planned, but he hasn’t spent a day looking back.
He turned heads during his senior season at Cincinnati, recording 129 tackles (60 solo), 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks for the Bearcats. And while it was disappointing to not hear his name called during the NFL Draft, he’s grateful for the opportunity to be here in Minnesota.
“At the end of the day, regardless of whether you get drafted or go undrafted, you’re going to have to compete against someone,” Wilson said. “So with that mindset, I feel like you just go out on the field and give your best every day. And then whatever happens, happens.”
Added Wilson: “Going undrafted, [you kind of] get to pick, and I wanted to be on a team that had a great defense and great coaches, so I feel like it’s a great fit.”
Learning curve: The Vikings defense was on the field for 75 plays against the Bills, and seventh-round pick Ifeadi Odenigbo participated in 39 (52 percent). There were a few that the former Northwestern pass-rush specialist would like to have back, but they can also be helpful as he continues to move forward.
“There’s lots to improve on, just understanding the game and being more decisive and playing faster,” Odenigbo said. “I think that’s where I struggled last game. [I can be] more confident with my keys and triggering faster.”
Odenigbo said he’s learned “a remarkable amount” since arriving in Minnesota in May.
“Coach ’Dre (Andre Patterson) is one of the best in the business right now,” Odenigbo said. “I was kind of raw coming in, and I’m becoming more polished like a professional now, as opposed to going to college and still using that rawness. Now, I’m more polished and know what the purpose is.”
Stopping sacks: The Vikings had one drive of the first-team offense stopped by a sack and another possession that opened with one, putting Minnesota behind the chains.
Alex Boone said the Vikings must keep Sam Bradford upright first and foremost.
“I think basically just keeping the quarterback standing right now is the biggest key,” Boone said. “You give up two sacks in the first game, and a lot of people want to throw shade on us, and rightfully so. At the end of the day, we come back and say, ‘How do we keep him standing? How do we fix the little details that will help us in the big picture?’ As long as everybody sticks to the code, we should be all right.”
Reiff update: Zimmer said Riley Reiff “practiced a little bit” Saturday, and is “getting better every day.”
“We’ll give him a little bit more tomorrow, and see how he comes out of today,” Zimmer said.
Vikings replace running back: The Vikings signed running back Bronson Hill on Saturday and waived Bishop Sankey (injured). Sankey suffered a knee injury at the end of a 14-yard run against the Bills.