BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Surrounded by media outside the cafeteria at Olivet Nazarene University on an unseasonably cool July afternoon, Chicago Bears safety Adrian Wilson wanted to say what was truly on his mind.
Instead, he kept calm when asked Thursday how it felt to miss the entire 2013 season.
“It was terrible,” Wilson said. “It was pretty bad. I really can’t describe it now because all of the cameras are in my face. The words I want to use aren’t words I can use on camera.”
But what the lenses might be able to catch once the team straps on the pads for workouts at training camp are flashes of sheer nastiness and physicality not seen in Chicago’s secondary since Mike Brown roamed it. Wilson says he’s ready. Bears general manager Phil Emery thinks he is, too.
But age (he’ll be 35 in October) and health remain concerns. Wilson missed all of 2013 after suffering an injury in the preseason finale as a New England Patriot, which was revealed to be Haglund’s deformity and required him to wear a hard cast for more than two months.
Wilson joined the Patriots after a 12-year tenure with the Arizona Cardinals, which released the aging veteran despite his five Pro Bowl selections and contributions in 181 career games.
When Wilson suffered the injury with the Patriots, it was believed the safety was in jeopardy of not making the team.
Yet in Chicago, for Wilson, there’s new life, provided he can stay healthy and consistently showcase the burst, superior instincts and athleticism he displayed back in June during the workout at Halas Hall which prompted the Bears to sign him.
“It’s an open competition back there,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “If he’s ready to go condition-wise in terms of on a daily basis and practice effectively, we’ll see where he’s at. We’re excited and hopeful that what we saw in the workout will transcend over the course of training camp.”
Wilson signed with the Bears after they had already conducted organized team activities and minicamps. So he didn’t participate in the team’s offseason conditioning program. To get Wilson up to speed, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and secondary coach Jon Hoke reached out, as did Jared Allen, Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs, among others.
Wilson also got a hold of an iPad loaded up with Chicago’s defensive system, and crammed day after day, learning the intricacies of the scheme.
“Good thing they made iPads,” Wilson joked. “I missed pretty much everything [in the offseason]. So I got caught up with the iPad and I’m ready to roll. For the people that know me, they know how obsessed I am with just learning the ins and outs of the defense.”
There’s also an infatuation with disproving the naysayers. During his 12 seasons in Arizona, Wilson missed significant time only once (seven games in 2007 due to a season-ending heel injury). That’s partly why Wilson -- despite missing all of 2013 -- never doubted he’d return to action.
Now he’s in a wide-open competition at the safety position, as both spots are up for grabs.
“There’s no challenge, man,” Wilson said. “Football is football. I’m a guy who’s very prideful. I’m a little bit disappointed from last year. I don’t have any goals. I’m just going out there and competing with myself. I’m not competing with anybody. I’m just here to play football. I take a lot of the critics that said I can’t play, that it was a terrible signing by the Bears, and all the other stuff that’s being said. I use that as motivation for me.”
Will it be enough? That’s unclear at this point, but we’ll certainly receive at least an indication one way or another on Sunday, when the Bears participate in their first fully-padded workout of camp.
Emery talked about Wilson being a player that will “come down in the box and whack you, and whack you in space,” but also mentioned the veteran is “a very instinctive player; gets his hands around the ball and he gets around the ball carrier. He’s urgent and physical.”
The “physical” part is what Chicago has missed in recent years at the safety position, which is why the brass badly wants Wilson to succeed. Outside of Wilson, no other safety on the roster possesses the physicality to be an intimidating force on the back end.
“Mr. Emery gave me a chance,” Wilson said. “I think it’s low risk for them, high reward. I’m looking forward to the opportunity. Obviously, I think I still have burst. I think I can still play.”