FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Maybe all you need to know about Adrian Wilson is that his Twitter avatar is a picture of the Incredible Hulk, the Marvel comic book hero who transforms from a scrawny human to a green-skinned behemoth who gets stronger as he gets madder.
Sure his resume is impressive. Wilson has appeared in five Pro Bowls, ranks third in NFL history in career sacks for a safety (25.5) and is one of the five players in NFL history with 25 sacks and 25 interceptions.
But his new teammates with the New England Patriots are impressed with other attributes Wilson brings to the team.
“Well, he’s got, like, 22-inch biceps,” said Rob Ninkovich, the New England Patriots’ outstanding defensive end. “That’s something we haven’t seen in the secondary in a while.”
Wilson signed with the Patriots back on March 16 after 12 years with the Arizona Cardinals. He was brought in to bring stability, leadership and toughness to a New England secondary that hasn’t had much of any since Rodney Harrison retired in 2009.
Already he has had an impact, not just on the young players trying to step into the NFL but on veterans such as cornerback Aqib Talib, who said after Tuesday’s combined practice with Tampa Bay that he is already learning from Wilson.
“He’s telling me stuff, like where he’s going to be in coverage, how he looks at coverages,” said Talib. “He just brings that knowledge to the table.”
Coach Bill Belichick noted that earlier in training camp, when he was asked about the younger players seeking out Wilson for a leadership role.
“He works hard, he’s a smart guy, he’s experienced,” said Belichick. “He’s really tried to learn and buy into our program, and do everything he can to find a way to contribute. I think he’s very well respected.”
But the 34-year-old Wilson doesn’t want to overstep his bounds. Others may look to him for leadership but he looks elsewhere.
“I’m in the background,” he said. “This is Devin’s secondary, he’s been here a lot longer. I’ll lean on Devin a lot. He’s the leader of this secondary.”
He was referring to Devin McCourty, the talented defensive back who can play cornerback or safety. He did both in Wednesday’s practice, with Kyle Arrington moving in at cornerback when McCourty played safety next to Wilson.
But while Wilson may defer to McCourty on certain matters, others will look to him.
“The guy’s been around the league for a long time and he’s been in a lot of big situations, and he’s played a long time so obviously he has that experience,” said Ninkovich. “He’s that veteran leader in the secondary that can help the younger guys grow and become better football players. Having a guy like that is going to help our team.”
That Wilson packs 230 well-chiseled pounds onto his 6-foot-3 frame does not go unnoticed by Ninkovich.
“I wouldn’t want to get hit by him,” said Ninkovich. “He looks like a linebacker out there at the deep safety position. Again, he’s one of those guys, you see him, he’s a natural freak of nature. We call him the Hulk for a reason. He’s definitely a big hitter.”
Much like Harrison, now an analyst for NBC, was in his playing days. But Wilson doesn’t want to be compared to Harrison and made that clear when he signed with the Patriots.
“I really want to stay away from the whole Rodney Harrison comparison,” he told the media at the time. “He’s a great player. He’s done a lot in this league; he’s probably going to go into the Hall of Fame. I’m just trying to find out what my role is for the Patriots and just compete with all the rest of the guys and hopefully I’ll have a role on the team.”
On Tuesday he said he’s still learning his role. After 12 seasons with one team, he is learning a new terminology and how to play with new partners.
“It’s a little strange but football is football,” he said. “The terminology is different so it has taken a little adjustment.”
But he feels he’s coming along fine.
“Well the coaches haven’t said I’m doing bad,” he said, “so I’ve just got to try to keep learning and getting better every day.”
He knows the expectations in New England are greater than they were in Arizona. But that shouldn’t translate into more pressure on the defense to perform.
“I think we’re a team, one unit is not leaning on the other,” he said. “I think everybody’s got one goal. And that’s to win. Just take one day at a time.”
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at [email protected]