FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Kyle Wilson was angry at himself, frustrated about losing playing time and the confidence of his coaches.
Expected to play a major role in the New York Jets’ secondary, the first-round draft pick went from heralded rookie to forgotten man in just a few weeks.
“I’ve been playing a long time, so it was definitely new to me,” Wilson said Friday. “I just had to learn quickly and just had to do my best with it.”
Playing with confidence again, the talented cornerback is back in the mix and expected to replace — or at least rotate with — Drew Coleman in the nickel and dime spots Sunday at Cleveland.
“He’s back to being the guy that we drafted,” coach Rex Ryan said.
That was the guy whom the Jets couldn’t believe slipped to them at the 29th overall spot. Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine envisioned rotating the athletic and physical defensive back from Boise State with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie in the secondary every week.
Wilson got plenty of work with the first-team defense in training camp while Revis sat out in a contract dispute. Ryan raved about Wilson all summer — and then, the regular season began. Wilson often appeared overmatched and Ryan thought he lost confidence.
“I just think sometimes as a rookie, you give up completions in this league,” Ryan said. “Everybody does. I just felt like he was at a stage where he expected a guy to complete a ball on him, and it’s like, ‘Come on, kid.”‘
The Jets opened the first two games of the season with three defensive backs, including Wilson. After Revis was injured in Week 2 against New England, Wilson started at cornerback against Miami the following week.
“Given how good our other corners are, whoever goes in at that position is going to be an instant target,” Pettine said. “That’s a tough thing for a rookie.”
Wilson was picked on regularly and a few weeks later was no longer in the rotation on defense — relegated to punt returns and special teams duty while he got his head straightened out.
“His frustration was obvious,” Pettine said. “I mean, he’s a competitor. He’s a very high-character kid and you could tell that it bothered him.”
Wilson kept quiet, never complaining about his struggles to the media, even as Coleman got the playing time he was used to getting.
“I tried to look at it positively,” Wilson said. “I know it could obviously be taken the wrong way, which wouldn’t be beneficial to me as a player.”
So, he did extra work after practice with defensive backs coach Dennis Thurman, watched more film and bounced things off both Revis and Cromartie in an effort to improve.
“If you’re not having fun, you get frustrated and you don’t play to the high level that you want to play at,” Cromartie said. “That’s one of the things we’ve talked to him about.”
While Revis had quick success as a rookie with the Jets in 2007, Cromartie could relate to Wilson. He was a first-round pick of San Diego in 2006 and had plenty of expectations, but was pulled from the cornerback rotation and played only in nickel situations before returning to the rotation before the playoffs.
“You’re going to have bumps in the road as a rookie and I think there are a lot of guys like that,” Cromartie said. “You have a lot of pressure on you and coming in, you’re trying to be that guy. It’s just the way you handle the bumps. I think he has handled them well.”
Wilson has put together a few solid weeks of practice, and tries not to get discouraged when he’s beaten by Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes or Jerricho Cotchery during the week.
“It doesn’t do a lot to help your confidence covering those guys,” Pettine said. “We don’t want to throw him out there 100 percent of the time and say, ‘Hey, listen go out there and gain experience,’ when, as we all know, we’re in the win business. So, we kind of have to walk that fine line between getting him playing time and getting him used to the speed of the game and playing at a high level.”
Wilson says his confidence is the same as it has always been, but he’s calmer now.
“Everybody just said it speaks to how you can battle through adversity and stuff like that, and seeing how you’re going to respond,” Wilson said. “I definitely took it as a challenge and came to work everyday and I’m just trying to get better.”
NOTES: In a week of playful jabs between Ryan, his twin brother, Rob, and Cleveland coach Eric Mangini, the Jets coach had one final shot. After Mangini said Thursday that everyone was happy for Ryan’s recent weight loss, “except maybe Macy’s losing one of their floats,” Rex Ryan served up a line from the movie “Stripes.” “It wobbled me. There’s no question about it, he staggered me,” Ryan said, “but I’ve got one message to say to Eric Mangini: ‘You just made the list, buddy.”‘
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)