Last Friday during his bye week, we got a chance to speak with George Wilson, the starting strong safety for the Buffalo Bills, who is now in his seventh year in the league. Wilson is the team’s union representative, so we asked him about what he thinks about the recent decision by Roger Goodell to recuse himself from the Saints bounty appeals progress. He also asked him about how a safety has had to change his game with recent changes in rules about hitting defenseless receivers. We also asked if there were anyone else on the team as crazy as Stevie Johnson.
KSK: How are you spending your bye week? What have you been up to so far?
George Wilson: Going good. Came home to Atlanta for a few days. Just taking it easy. Getting a little rest and relaxation before I gotta go back and clock back in for the second half of the season.
KSK: So you guys had a bit of a letdown on Sunday against Tennessee. You seemed to take that particularly hard. There was an interception that you could have had late in the game right before the Titans scored the go-ahead touchdown. When you have a loss like that, obviously you have to let it go, but how long will you typically catch yourself thinking about it?
George Wilson: We have a 24-hour rule on our team and I’m sure most teams have it. It’s a 24 hour window where you can enjoy the victory or however you handle dealing with defeat. With a loss like that, it lingers a little more, especially with us going into a bye week. Under normal circumstances, I’d have moved on to our next opponent. You can’t dwell on the previous week because that’ll get you beat that week. It lingers a little bit more, but now I’ve gotten over it. I’m just starting to get ready for the Houston Texans, who we play when we go back next week.
KSK: Sorry, I meant to check your schedule. Do you guys play a Thursday night game this season?
George Wilson: Yeah, we got a Thursday night game coming up against Miami.
KSK: Gotcha. How do feel about the Thursday night games being a regular thing this year? There’s a lot of concern that the quick turnaround affects the quality of play. Can you explain how your schedule changes for that week as opposed to a regular full week of preparation?
George Wilson: I think it’s a good thing for the league because it gives all the teams an opportunity to be on prime time television. So it’s something that will boast the followings of big market teams but also create more marketing opportunities and ways to expand your fan base by allowing small market teams to get prime time viewership as well. From a football perspective, typically after a Sunday game you have Mondays off to review the film and to get a weight workout in. If you play on Thursday, you’re probably going to go through the same exact schedule for Monday. Tuesday is usually the universal day off in the NFL, but if you have a Thursday game, you’re going to have a normal practice on Tuesday. It won’t be a non-padded practice. You’ll have meetings and walk-through on that Wednesday to get ready for the game on Thursday. I think coaches can tweak the schedules to squeeze in a second practice on that Monday, but I think a lot of that is contingent on your injury situation. If you have a lot of injuries, obviously you give your team another day off and just practice on Tuesday. If you’re not really banged up, you might squeeze in that Monday practice. It just depends on your coaching staff and the make-up of your team. Are you a veteran team or a young team? A lot of that plays a part into how coaches structure an abbreviated work week.
KSK: You made some comments during the summer about how Roger Goodell handles disciplinary issues and how the appeals process works. What are your thoughts about Goodell recusing himself from the Saints bounty issue? Is that a step in the right direction or just a case where his hand was forced?
George Wilson: I think it’s a step in the right direction, but I think there’s been some questions raised about his replacement, former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, possibly having a conflict of interest because the law firm that he works for has represented commissioner Goodell in the defamation law suit that Jonathan Vilma has pending at the moment, as well as some other things. That could be a potential conflict of interest there. I don’t have all the information that they have. But the fact that he recused himself from the appeals process is a step in the right direction even though we’re not there yet.
KSK: What is the ideal set-up you’d like to have for appeals?
George Wilson: Basically, we as players are looking for a neutral arbitrator. Somebody that doesn’t have ties to the league office nor to the players union. Just looking for a truly independent arbitrator to handle any disputes or situations that can’t be handled between the league and the players union.
KSK: Have you ever encountered that issue yourself? Has there ever been a fine or disciplinary measure that you’ve tried to challenge yourself but haven’t been able to?
George Wilson: I can honestly say I haven’t had to deal with that. Hopefully I don’t have to. The thing is, commissioner Goodell has people who can handle uniform violations or on-field conduct violations. I think most guys’ concerns are with conduct off the field, where the commissioner has sometimes rendered disciplinary measures before the court of law has run its course. Some guys don’t agree with that. Some guys don’t agree with him being judge, jury and executioner. Some people just think that’s too much power for one person to have and I can understand why they might feel that way.
KSK: From what I understand, Goodell’s ability to be judge, jury and executioner, as you describe it, was something that was debated during the CBA negotiations that took place last year. In the year or so since it was signed, there have been a number of players who have said that they regret that more steps weren’t taken to limit his power during those negotiations. What are your views on that?
George Wilson: Yeah, there’s definitely been some concern about that. That was definitely in the discussion during the negotiation process. But I don’t think that was a deal breaker, necessarily, to sign or not to sign a new collective bargaining agreement. In hindsight, I believe a lot of guys firmly believe that we should have put more effort behind that. In the negotiation process, you don’t get everything that you ask for and you just try to find some common ground where both parties are happy. All in all, I think it helped a great deal for the growth and future prosperity of our game. But as with any situation, you’re not going to agree with everything.
KSK: This doesn’t have to do with off-field stuff, but it’s something you could be potentially fined for: as a safety, it has to be tough to deal with the standard of defenseless receivers. It’s not a new standard, per se, but it has changed quite a bit in the last few years. Plays are lightning fast. It has to be hard to judge and line up a hit in a certain way. Or play a pass when it gets there and distinguish between what is and is not a defenseless receiver. What kind of changes have you had to make in your game? And, with this standard, is occasionally hitting a defenseless receiver inevitable? Are you just going to get that penalty every once in a while?
George Wilson: For the most part, just not aiming at the neck and head of your opponent. That’s the main thing. Sometimes, on a quick hit play, where you don’t have an opportunity to see your target clearly, sometimes you try to hit or grab the opposite color jersey and you make a hit that is against that standard. They do happen when you don’t have the opportunity to assess where your target is on your opponent. So when you do have an opportunity to see a play unfold, you have to be mindful of where you’re targeting him. Also making sure not to lead with your head and definitely not leaving your feet and launching yourself into an opponent because that’s something that league is monitoring as well. Is it easy? No, it’s not easy. But it’s something you have to learn to train yourself to do in practice. Just as you continue to play the game more, be mindful how you’re tackling.
KSK: Do you think there’s anything the Competition Committee could do to balance it out? Obviously, the intent is to protect players’ health and the health of receivers, but it does stack the deck in the favor of the offense if they know they can throw over the middle and the defender has to be uneasy about how he’s supposed to make a hit.
George Wilson: I mean, it’s an offensive game, let’s face it. Scoring points, putting touchdowns on the board, that’s what drives people to the game and puts people in the seats. They have started to make some progress in protecting defensive players as well. How sometimes we can be crackback blocked by a tight end or a receiver when we’re not necessarily looking. They don’t at that as the same as a defenseless receiver on offense. But the league has definitely taken some steps to make our game much safer than it has been.
KSK: Playing for a team in the AFC East, you’re certainly familiar with the Patriots’ offense. In the last week or so, Jets linebacker Calvin Pace called the pace they played at “borderline illegal”. Obviously, it’s not illegal, he was just referring to how they’re really, really fast at getting plays off quickly. What have Bills coaches tried to do to counteract that no-huddle approach?
George Wilson: You can try to practice for a no-huddle offense but you’re not going to get the same intensity or sense of urgency in that practice that you would get in a game. They change their personnel so fast and you’re supposed to have a chance to match your personnel with the offense’s personnel but that doesn’t always happen. But you know that going in that the Patriots have the ability to be an uptempo offense where they keep you in the same defensive package or keep the same personnel on the field for the entire series unless you burn one of your timeouts. So you have to give up something. You either gotta give up a timeout or you have to give up some yards because of some of the confusion that arises once you go their uptempo offense.
KSK: I saw on Twitter that Stephon Gilmore, the rookie corner, mentioned that he’s gotten more advice from you than any other player on the team. What kind of things have you told him to help him adjust to the pro game?
George Wilson: I’ve just been trying to help him be a better professional on the field but also to help him deal with the pressure that come with being an NFL player. Anybody who has experienced that knows it’s not just football that takes up a lot of your time. It’s not just football that all of your pressure comes from. Trying to make sure he has a concept of what being a pro means, from his preparation, to how he takes care of his body, to being out there on the field and figuring out what the defense is trying to do to him. So I’ve just been trying to pour all the knowledge I’ve acquired during my career into him. There were veterans in the locker room who did that for me when I was in his position so now I’m just trying to pay it forward. Hopefully, one day he’ll be able to pay it forward to somebody else.
KSK: Coming into the season, the Bills brought on some high-priced free agents like Mario Williams and Mark Anderson and there was a lot of expectation about how they would do coming into the season. There’s been a lot of criticism of the defensive line especially so far this season. Is there a sense of frustration among the defense that you all aren’t living up to those expectations?
George Wilson: I’ll say I’m disappointed in our performance, because I know we’re better than that. We have the talent to play better than that. We’ve been inconsistent. But when I say I’m disappointed, it’s doesn’t mean I’m discouraged. So with this bye week and time away, we can come back together and get this thing going in the right direction over the remaining nine games. It’s not just one particular player or area. It’s 11 guys on the field at one time and all 11 guys gotta be doing their job the right way and dominating their man across from them. Because of the salary and the media following that took place after the contract was signed, we know Mario gets the brunt of the criticism because basically he’s in the same position that the quarterback is in on the offense. Usually, the quarterback is the highest paid and most visible guy on the offense and Mario is that guy on the defense. But in no way is it Mario’s fault for us to be 3-4. Like I said earlier, it takes effort from all 11 guys to be effective against the run and the pass.
KSK: I mentioned Twitter a little earlier. I know you’re on there. A week or two ago, it was DeAngelo Williams on the Panthers was complaining about the grief he was getting from fans about his production and its effects on fantasy football. As a defensive player, you don’t have to worry as much about fantasy stuff, but any starter is gonna take some criticism on some stuff. Does that make you hesitant to check you mentions or do you just do it anyway?
George Wilson: Anybody who is a professional athlete who has a social media account on any of the networks, when they sign up for that account, they subject themselves to all of the criticisms and all of the praises that may or may not be out there. And so you can’t get on social media and complain about the people because that’s what you know you’re dealing with. You have to hear it. You don’t have to respond. It’s not about what you see or what you hear, it’s about how you respond if you choose to respond. Me personally, I don’t respond to the negativity. It’s gonna be there. I read it. It keeps me grounded. But at the end of the day, that’s what I signed up for by getting a Twitter or Facebook account.
KSK: What are some criticisms from fans, maybe not even necessarily on social media, that you feel are the biggest misconceptions. Not even which ones bug you the most but which ones are the most unfair?
George Wilson: People sometimes on there, they talk to you as if you wanted to make the mistake or you tried to make the mistake. Nobody wants to lose. Nobody wants to mess up. Sometimes, I think people take it as if that’s what we were trying to do, as if losing was our intent. Sometimes they forget that we’re human beings, too. We’re people. Even though we’re in uniform and you see us as stars that are elevated on platforms, we’re still people. And I think people lose focus of that.
KSK: On the Bills, it seems like Stevie Johnson gets the most attention for some of his sillier behavior. Are there any other players on the team that have big personalities that the public doesn’t know as much about? Maybe they do funny stuff at practice.
George Wilson: Not for the most part. Guys have their own swag. Guys have their own way of how they go about their job. Nobody really does anything really that sticks out. Stevie, the way he carries himself, his style and the brand he’s built has really drawn people to him. So i think Stevie is the best example of that on our team.
KSK: Because the AFC this year is so muddled. You’ve got Houston and Baltimore on the top, but then there’s a huge pack of teams in the middle. So do you think that even though Buffalo hasn’t had the greatest start that you guys are still in a position to make a playoff run?
George Wilson: Yeah, I definitely think we’re in a position where we control our own destiny, but we can’t continue to allow games and opportunities to pass us by without taking advantage of them. We have nine games left to get our ticket punched to that playoff race on the end. So we gotta get back on the winning side of things beginning next week.
KSK: Obviously, Houston is a tough draw. Part of that has to be dealing with their running game, but what sort of challenges does their passing game pose? They have Andre Johnson, one of the better receivers in the league, but what other things are you guys keying on?
George Wilson: They have a great, productive tight end in Owen Daniels as well. Like you said, the productivity they get from their running game, that opens up their passing game, because they use play action off their run game to use the pass game to get receivers and tight ends open. So you have to do a great job of making them one-dimensional, so you can anticipate more what they’re going to do to you. Schaub does a great job of getting the ball to their playmakers. They rarely beat themselves with penalties and turnovers. And they’re a disciplined football team. So we got our work cut out for ourselves. It’s gonna be a real test for us.
KSK: All right. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Good luck the rest of the way.
George Wilson: No problem. Thanks for having me.
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