Safety Tavon Wilson is happy to be back with the Detroit Lions, and happy that he was healthy and able to participate with his teammates on the practice field Tuesday.
Under NFL rules governing offseason workouts, Tuesday marked the first time players were allowed to be on the field under the direction of the coaches.
It may not seem like much – the first practice of a voluntary three-day minicamp in April – but Wilson saw it as an important step in preparing for the 2018 season under new head coach Matt Patricia and his staff.
Going into his seventh NFL season, and third with the Lions, Wilson has a narrow focus that is directly on the future. He doesn’t dwell on the past – good, bad or indifferent.
“My focus is on today,” Wilson said. “To get an opportunity to get out there with my teammates today, run around a little bit. This is our first day being on the field, working with my new coaches – working with some of the new people in the building, getting to know these people.
“That’s my excitement right now, and just trying to get to know everybody in this building as best as I could so when we get to the season we’ll be ready for that.”
It’s a new season, but Wilson’s previous connection with Patricia cannot be discounted. Wilson spent his first four seasons with the New England Patriots after being drafted in the second round out of Illinois in 2012.
Patricia was the defensive coordinator, and Wilson was primarily a backup and role player. He played 54 games, with four starts.
Wilson’s status changed when he signed with the Lions as a free agent in 2016. He was a full-time starter, until his 2017 season ended with a shoulder injury that limited him to 10 games.
Wilson became a free agent this year, and the Lions signed him back early in March. That maintained continuity in a secondary that was the strength of the defense last season. All four starters are returning, along with four of the top five in the substitution rotation.
“I was excited to be back, working with the same guys for my third year,” Wilson said. “I was optimistic about coming back here. I felt like they liked me here.”
Patricia liked Wilson when he was a young player breaking in with the Patriots. And he likes him better now with the development he has made.
“I had Tavon, obviously very young, when he first came to us,” Patricia said. “Very tough, physical football player, had a great instinct. Really could do a good job of finding the ball. Fit really well in the run fits.
“I would say over the course of time where he left us and kind of moved on here, I’ve seen the rest of his game really develop.
“He’s been able to play a little bit more in the deep part of the field – do a couple different things from a safety standpoint, play a little bit more man-to-man coverage down in the box, tight ends, different sort of skilled players.”
At 6 feet and 212 pounds, Wilson has good size to go with athletic versatility that is an asset playing alongside Pro Bowl safety Glover Quin. It has allowed Wilson to play a high snap count and remain on the field in passing situations.
Despite playing with a shoulder injury sustained in the preseason, Wilson registered two sacks, two pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble as part of a secondary that was a major reason the Lions were third in the league with 32 takeaways – 19 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries.
That, of course, was last year. A new year brings new challenges. “You can’t stand on last year, even me,” Wilson said. “I have to come out and prove myself this year.”