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Bengals rookie Brandon Wilson striving to make roster, contribute with kick returns

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Wilson is part of a rare group of Bengals players for whom the team traded up to select in the NFL Draft. But with so much young talent on the roster, he must accomplish his first goal of making the 53-man roster before dreaming bigger dreams.

Cincinnati v Houston
Brandon Wilson of the Houston Cougars returns an interception for a 51-yard touchdown in the third quarter of a game against the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Photo by Eric Christian Smith/Getty Images

It’s never fun to go down with an injury in one of your first practices in the NFL. Such was the case for Cincinnati Bengals’ sixth round draft pick Brandon Wilson.

The defensive back, who happens to also have experience at running back, went down with a knee injury on the second day or rookie minicamp, just days after the Bengals traded up in the sixth round to select him.

“It happened during the second day of minicamp,” Wilson told Cincy Jungle. “My knee was bothering me but I pushed through for the last two days of minicamp and then when I came back for the first day of OTAs with everyone else it was still bothering me and I couldn’t (practice).”

Wilson is currently working out in his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana with less than one week to go before reporting to training camp. He believes he will be ready for day one to take the field with his teammates on July 28 for the first open-to-the-public practice of the summer.

“I was mostly watching and learning and getting mental reps in on the sideline,” Wilson said of his involvement during OTAs and mandatory minicamp. “But I was learning stuff from the vets.”

As a sixth round pick, Wilson isn’t a lock to make the roster, even though the Bengals haven’t cut a rookie draft pick since seventh round pick Lavelle Westbrooks in 2014. With 11 draft picks this season and many promising undrafted players, there’s no certainty that a sixth round pick is a shoo-in to make the roster before the start of training camp. With that said, making the roster is what Wilson is focusing on as September approaches.

“My goal is to make the roster,” he said. “As of right now, that’s my main focus. And once I do that, I’m going to set out on new goals.”

One thing Wilson has going for him is that the Bengals traded up in the NFL Draft for only the fourth time in the team’s 50 year history. With that type of investment – even as a sixth round pick – the Bengals may be more inclined to keep Wilson around this season.

“It made me feel really special that they traded up to get me,” Wilson said. “It made me feel like they believe in me and wanted me. So that was really cool. I was with my family we were actually watching on TV and when they called my phone, I was like ‘everybody be quiet, be quiet.’ And they told me they were going to pick me and everybody just went crazy. It was a really special moment and something I won’t ever forget.”

In college, Wilson was a triple threat playmaker on offense, defense and special teams. He played cornerback, some safety, running back (especially during his junior year when Bengals 2016 first round draft pick William Jackson III was a starting cornerback) and was a key return man for the Houston Cougars.

During his Houston career, Wilson had 102 solo tackles and 36 assisted tackles as well as 2 sacks, 2 interceptions (one of which was returned for a touchdown), 1 fumble recovery (which was returned for a touchdown) and 3 forced fumbles. On kick returns, he had 44 returns for 1,121 yards (25.5 yards per return average) and 2 kick return touchdowns. And on offense, he had 41 rushing attempts for 194 rushing yards (4.7 yards per carry average) and 2 rushing touchdowns in addition to 11 receptions for 101 yards. That’s six touchdowns, two scored on offense, two on defense and two on special teams. In 2015, he was the only player in the NCAA to score multiple touchdowns in all three phases of the game. Talk about a playmaker!

The Bengals are currently listing Wilson on the roster as a safety and he feels that will be the best spot for him to start his NFL career.

“I feel like safety will be a good fit for me,” he said. “As far as playing other positions I’m not sure. It’s whatever the organizations want to do with me. I know I’m going to be on a lot of special teams but as far as playing running back, I’m not sure about that. We will see.”

It’s no easy job to learn the Bengals’ playbook so it’s likely the team wants him to focus on one position at a time before opening him open to playing on both offense and defense. While OTAs aren’t something that makes or breaks a player’s NFL season, he is at a disadvantage having not participated. But, Wilson has still been learning from his teammates and is adjusting to life in the pros.

“You have to be a pro with everything you do,” Wilson said of the most important lesson he’s learned since being drafted in April. “Gotta be on time. Gotta know the playbook. Gotta take care of your body. That’s how some guys stay in the league for so long, by taking care of themselves and knowing the game.”

That’s a key part to success in the NFL and a great building block for Wilson as he fights to earn one of the final spots on the 53-man roster. As training camp approaches and the rookies report to Cincinnati on July 25, Wilson has kept busy by working out, getting his knee ready and learning “every detail of the playbook.”

As a rookie, Wilson is sure to see significant time on special teams if he does make the roster, and his experience there is something he believes sets him apart from other fringe roster players.

“I’m hoping to return kicks,” he said. “Not a lot of people have been able to play offense, defense and special teams in college. I feel like that sets me apart, being able to play both sides of the ball and special teams. That is special.”

We’ll soon see just how special it is as Wilson suits up in Bengals stripes this summer.