EAGAN, Minn. — Eric Wilson timed it well, had an unobstructed path and didn’t overdo it.
The Vikings second-year linebacker blitzed from the left edge of Minnesota’s defense and finished the play quickly with a controlled tackle of Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler.
The takedown early in the second half caused a loss of 7, created a third-and-16.
The textbook execution of the blitz was an illustration of several things that Wilson has learned since joining the Vikings as an undrafted rookie out of the University of Cincinnati in 2017.
The first part, he said, of making it a success was to not to cross the line of scrimmage before the snap.
“That’s come up, being able to control yourself and not be offsides because that’s just a free play for the offense, and offenses nowadays try to take a shot down field,” Wilson said. “The last thing you need is for them to try to take a shot and then the DB gets [pass interference] on a penalty that was already a penalty.”
Wilson didn’t get duped by Kessler’s fake handoff. He slightly and deftly changed his course, and the quarterback had no place to go but down at the hands of Wilson.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said the team was drawn to Wilson because of his ability to cover opponents on pass plays. Zimmer said Wilson has progressed nicely with his assignments.
“He’s always been a good athlete,” Zimmer said. “He’s not making very many mistakes now. We’re playing him at multiple positions. He wouldn’t have been able to do that a year ago. Part of the reason we liked him was he was really good in space.”
Wilson said he focused during breaks of the offseason on “learning and visualizing things on the field” and has been grateful for the opportunity to do more.
“I blitzed sometimes in college, had a couple of sacks, not a whole bunch,” Wilson said. “I think I can do it. I can blitz, I can cover. I’d like to think I can do anything necessary for a linebacker to do.”
Wilson contributed significantly on special teams, totaling 11 tackles and forcing a fumble against the Bengals.
After watching Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Ben Gedeon start for Minnesota last season, Wilson is learning first-hand just how fun it is to be a linebacker amidst a Vikings defense loaded with playmakers on the defensive line and secondary.
“I think our defense definitely complements itself well,” Wilson said. “If our DBs are doing well, our line is going to get [to the quarterback], and sometimes our d-line might get there fast enough where our DBs don’t have to cover. Having a great group of guys in front of and behind me helps make my job easier.
“Everybody in some way gets a chance to blitz,” he added. “I took advantage of one and timed it up pretty good and luckily got the sack and was able to make a play for the team. I love our defense and our scheme. I think Coach Zimmer does a great job.”
The Vikings have often blitzed or bluffed with Barr and Kendricks lining up between Minnesota’s defensive tackles to create uncertainty and stress on opposing centers.
Gedeon was able to rush up the gut Saturday against Jacksonville on what became the final play of the first half. He made initial contact with Blake Bortles, and Stephen Weatherly helped finish the play.
Gedeon said Barr and Kendricks are “two of the best blitzing linebackers in the league” and everyone else in the linebackers room have taken notes.
“I think all of the linebackers have been working hard at it and have been working with the d-line a little bit on our pass-rushing stuff, so I think it’s paying off for all of us,” Gedeon said.
He also enjoys the opportunities that are created for linebackers to make plays.
“It’s an aggressive defense, so there’s a lot of opportunities to make TFLs and blitzes and things like that,” Gedeon said. “It’s a fun defense to play in, for sure. You’ve just got to make the plays that come to you like that. When your number is called, you’ve got to go. You’ve got to be ready to roll.”
Zimmer said he likes what he is seeing from Wilson and Gedeon.
“Both of them played really well in the ball game. Gedeon, like he always is, nobody really notices him and he has five tackles and half a sack this week,” Zimmer said. “Eric Wilson ran around, he stripped the ball one time on kind of a busted coverage. He got the sack on the one rush. Those two young linebackers are good players.”
Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said both players are showing an increased understanding of what the Vikings try to accomplish with their linebacker blitzes.
“They have become a lot more comfortable as far as rushing the passer and the techniques we are using as far as just not running down the middle of people,” Edwards said. “Understand the different nuances we are doing blitz-wise. It really showed the other night. They both did a good job of blitzing and getting pressure on the quarterbacks and getting them down.”