FOXBOROUGH — One of the rules for Patriots players during interviews is that they say almost nothing about the previous season or seasons, to keep things focused on the present.
But forgetting about last year is probably preferable for safety Tavon Wilson. A second-round pick out of Illinois in 2012, Wilson went from defensive contributor as a rookie to complete afterthought last year.
So it would be easy to write him off heading into his third season, particularly with it looking as if second-year safety Duron Harmon could lock up the second starting spot with Devin McCourty, but through conversations both public and private, it sounds as though Wilson has been training to put up a good fight.
“I’m just trying to come out here and take advantage of my opportunity,” Wilson said Sunday after the Patriots’ rain-shortened practice. “I went home [to Washington D.C.] and continued to study in the offseason, think about things I could do to get better, and even when I do good I’m still going to think about things I can do better, so I just try to come out here and get better every day.”
The coaching staff wanted Wilson to get better at “everything,” he said, and while he said he worked on all facets of his game, the mental aspect got particular attention.
He focused “mentally a lot. They said, ‘You’ve got to work on your communication at all times.’ So I think my overall game is better and I’ve just got to keep improving,” Wilson said.
“I think [he’s shown] growth as far as just being in the defense. I think that’s the toughest thing when you come in as a young guy,” McCourty said. “As a rookie . . . you’re in there and it’s ‘know this spot, know this one role,’ and I think now he has a better understanding of the defense and you really need that at safety. You need to know everything that’s going on.
“I think he’s put in a lot of work studying the playbook and not just knowing his position, but knowing what’s going on around him. I think it’s given him the chance to do some things that maybe we haven’t talked about but it’s the right thing, or he’s not doing it because it’s in the playbook but he understands and it’s allowing him to put people in better position and put himself in good positions.”
Wilson has gotten some time with the first-team defense since camp began, as has Patrick Chung. Despite the three battling for one job, it hasn’t affected their relationship.
“It’s good — both of those guys are good players, all of us care for each other, all of us want each other to do well, so our room is great, everybody’s going to do the best they can and we’ll see what happens,” Wilson said.
Asked if he feels it’s an open competition, he said, “I just take advantage of my opportunities and leave it to whatever the coaches decide. The only thing I can do is control what I can control, and that’s my performance. I go out there and try to put myself in the best position I can.”
Wilson played in all 16 games as a rookie, starting four games midseason and seeing snaps with the defense in every contest. Last year, however, while he did play in 13 games plus both postseason games, Wilson was on the field with the defense in just five, for a total of 22 snaps.
McCourty said that while those outside of Gillette Stadium were criticizing Wilson last year, he never got down on himself and kept working.
That intensified during the offseason, and Wilson also joined McCourty and Logan Ryan at Darrelle Revis’s preferred training facility, Fischer Institute in Arizona, for the layoff between minicamp and training camp, working on position-specific drills and learning from the older players.