When George Wilson made the unconventional switch from receiver to safety and was good enough to make the Bills 53-man roster in 2007, it was applauded as a success. But Wilson was anything but a success in his first season at the position. Fast forward two seasons later and Wilson has become a player that Buffalo's coaching staff can rely upon.
"When George Wilson first came over as a safety he was in the wrong place at the wrong time," said interim head coach Perry Fewell. "He's definitely in the right place at the right time right now."
Proof of that came in his latest performance when Wilson caught a deflected pass for his third interception of the season this past Sunday which led to a Bills field goal. It's a single-season career high for Wilson with six games still left on the schedule.
But Wilson has done far more than pick off passes this season where he ranks second on the team behind rookie Jairus Byrd. In six starts this season Wilson stands third on the team in tackles, is tied for second in forced fumbles, fourth in sacks and fifth in pass breakups.
Wilson chalks it up to a revamped approach to his adopted position.
"My mindset changed back in the spring time when we came back for offseason workouts," said Wilson. "I remember the first day I saw coach Fewell down here when we were getting physicals the first day back and I just talked to him and he asked me what my goals were going into the season. And I told him, 'This is my third year at the position and I'm trying to show some growth. I can't be making the same mistakes that I made in the past.'
"I wanted to step my game up and advance my play in order to try to make my name as a safety in this league and not just try to keep myself in the special teams mode. I just changed my mindset and approach so everything I was doing from the meetings to the weight room workouts, it was all geared toward making the most of the opportunity when it came and show progress from years past."
In his very first start in Week 4, Wilson showed quickly that his game had reached another level. Against Miami he started in place of an injured Bryan Scott at strong safety and finished the game with two sacks a forced fumble and five tackles. Two weeks later against the Jets he contributed an interception, a tackle for loss and six tackles.
Wilson's confidence was brimming as he followed with a 10-tackle performance and another interception to ice the win at Carolina in Week 7. The following Sunday against Houston, Wilson was the game's leading tackler with 15 and had a quarterback hit that led to a Jairus Byrd interception.
"Each week and each game I've gained even more and more confidence," he said. "The more plays you get the more opportunities you get and I've been able to get my hands on some passes and get some interceptions and sacks. And you get more and more confidence and you start to get on the opposing team's radar where they have to account for you. I just want to make sure my teammates and my coaches had the utmost confidence in me to get the job done."
What's given his coaching staff great confidence in him is how effectively he's reduced his mental errors over the past two seasons.
"He has done that, he has reduced his mental errors," said Fewell. "His focus on the game situations has increased tremendously and that young man has a little luck behind him. Every now and then you have to have a little luck and he's a lucky guy. Tipped balls go his way and he's where he's supposed to be in the run game and he makes the tackle. George Wilson is really a credit to this football team and to himself as an individual that has worked really hard to make the conversion from receiver to safety and be a starter in the NFL."
"Compared to 2007 to the few games I got to start last year to now I really feel I've come a long way," Wilson said. "Coach Fewell and the defensive staff really have a lot of faith in me to get the job done when they put me down in the box in the run game to take on those tackles and guards and tight ends.
"They also match me up in the passing game in man coverage on the opposing team's tight ends. I really like my chances in the box when I can play like I want to play and that's aggressive and physical, up close and personal. They try to put me in the best position to succeed."
Wilson knew all he had to add to his game was consistency and the plays would come, and that's exactly what has happened this season. His emergence at the strong safety position could not have come at a better time. With Bryan Scott shifting to outside linebacker to fill the void left by Keith Ellison, Wilson's reliability has become all the more appreciated.
"The coaches look for consistency in this league," Wilson said. "I just want the other 10 guys to be able to rely on me and know that I'm going to be in the right spot executing my assignment."