Oft-injured linebacker Gerris Wilkinson has been told through "a third party" that he's going to see a lot of work in the middle linebacker spot this training camp, and will certainly be in the mix to permanently replace the departed Antonio Pierce.
GM Jerry Reese did say at the owners meeting this week that he believes his roster is already peopled with potential replacements for Pierce. This makes it obvious he thinks Wilkinson could be one of them.
Of course, Wilkinson will have much company. Jonathan Goff started there last year, as did Chase Blackburn. And then there's always Bryan Kehl, or a future free agent pickup, or maybe a draft pick like Rolando McClain.
Competition is nothing new to him, of course. Staying healthy for a whole year might be. Wilkinson lasted only nine games before hitting the injured reserve list Nov. 11 with a dislocated wrist. But, if nothing else, Wilkinson will go into a position where he's had some familiarity, even if it goes back to his college days at Georgia Tech.
"I played there my first two years in college," Wilkinson said. "I'd love to play there."
Wilkinson said he hasn't had any in-depth chats with new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, only enough for Fewell to tell him that "we have some new stuff coming in,'' according to Wilkinson. But he has watched some of Fewell's scheming from Buffalo.
"It's not so much different than most 4-3 teams," Wilkinson said. "With the Mike linebackers, it's really similar coverages. Nothing too crazy."
Still, the man that has played both the strong and weakside spots is thinking middle right now. He said his range and sideline-to-sideline pursuit ability should enable him to make inroads there. And he said he wouldn't be adverse to wearing the microphone helmet, though weakside starter Michael Boley said he fully expects to continue in the command role he took over when Pierce went down with a neck injury before the Atlanta game Nov. 22.
"Just knowing the defense and knowing where everybody needs to be, I've been here for a while now and I know the guys," Wilkinson said. "From a leadership standpoint, that doesn't hurt."
He'll take what he learned from Pierce over his first four years.
"Ever since I got here, AP was the leader in that linebacker room," he said. "I tried to pick up everything I could on how you study films, how you prepare for games, how you study your opponent. For me, mainly, the mental side is what I tried to learn from him.
"It was hard to get information from him. He wasn't a super-open guy, but I tried to get as much as I could."
As for the present and future company on the depth chart, he's ready to handle that, too.
"It's nothing new," Wilkinson said. "I've been battling for a different spot every year, with free agents coming in and drafted guys coming in. This is nothing new. It's up to the coaches."
Actually, it will be up to Wilkinson, one of the few special teams standouts last year, to take that step up.
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