Steelers' Wilson ready to buck up, replace Foote
Mike Tomlin never viewed Kion Wilson as the eventual replacement for Larry Foote at the buck inside linebacker position for the Steelers.
When Wilson was signed to a future's contract in January after spending the majority of 2012 out of football and working as an insurance adjuster, Tomlin immediately made it clear what he wanted from him.
“He wanted me to be a special teams stud,” Wilson said.
And that's what Wilson became.
Wilson did it so well that it was easy for Tomlin to shove aside draft pick Stevenson Sylvester and up-and-comer Marshall McFadden and use the “special teams stud” spot on the guy who has never taken an NFL defensive snap since leaving South Florida four years ago.
But that will change in front of about 15 million television viewers Monday night when the Steelers take on AFC North foe Cincinnati.
Wilson will replace Foote after the veteran was lost for the season Sunday with a ruptured biceps.
“I have always emphasized to myself to know my role and wait my turn,” said Wilson, who spent time with San Diego and Carolina before signing with the Steelers. “I knew my role up until this point, and I guess my turn is now. It is definitely an opportunity for me, and I will gladly accept the opportunity and hopefully be able to help the team out the best I can.”
Wilson (6-foot, 239 pounds) carved out his niche on special teams during the preseason but saw his share of snaps at inside linebacker and played well. He played 90 defensive snaps in the preseason with the majority of those (58) coming over the final two games. He finished with 10 tackles and a sack and earned the trust of the coaching staff and teammates.
“Kion went through our camp, and he's picked up our defense,” said linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who will call the defensive plays. “(Linebackers) coach (Keith) Butler is going to do a good job prepping him for the game, (and) coach (Dick) LeBeau has been doing this for awhile.”
Wilson believes that being surrounded by a veteran defensive unit will help him make up for his lack of experience.
“When you are in there with the first team, those guys know the defense so well,” Wilson said. “When you are in there with a bunch of young guys and they aren't communicating as much, that's when there's a problem. I am very comfortable with my athletic ability, and I feel that I can compete with the best of the best. I was just waiting for that opportunity.”
That opportunity almost never came.
An uneasy childhood — his father was murdered when Wilson was 3 years old — sent him down a path of trouble that resulted in an arrest at age 13 and a nine-month stay in a boarding school for troubled youth.
Wilson got his life back on track and played a year of football at Pearl City Community College before transferring to South Florida, where he was named first-team Big East by his senior year.
After what Wilson went through, replacing a veteran inside linebacker in front of a Monday Night Football audience isn't that daunting of a task.
“Trust me, I am not worried about the Monday night game and the circumstances around it,” Wilson said. “I just want to make sure I am prepared and the coaches trust me to be out there.”