The Tampa Bay Buccaneers reduced their roster to 75 players on Monday, which resulted in a somewhat tighter depth chart with one more round of cuts looming. Nothing changed for E.J. Wilson, however; he's still listed second at left defensive end behind current starter Michael Bennett.
That's on paper. In reality, Wilson's situation has changed quite a bit in the last couple months, and if there is anything that has defined the young lineman's career in the NFL so far, it has been the necessity to adapt.
Eagle-eyed Bucs fans probably noticed Wilson playing extensively at defensive tackle, not end, against the New England Patriots last Friday. In practice at One Buc Place, he's been running with Gerald McCoy and the other DTs, as well. With the trade of Brian Price to the Chicago Bears and the minor ailments that have limited Amobi Okoye and Gary Gibson during training camp and the preseason, the team was looking to shore up its interior depth, and they found the answer right there on their own depth chart.
"That's a big change from the offseason," said Wilson. "During the OTAs I was mostly running at the end, but I guess they needed a tackle so they moved me to tackle. The more I can do, the more I can help this team and just try to get a roster spot, I'll do it."
The move makes sense. Wilson came into the league as a defensive end, the position he played at North Carolina, and was a fourth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2010. He spent several months of his rookie season on Seattle's active roster, but was usually inactive on game days and was eventually waived in November. The Bucs swept in immediately so sign Wilson to their practice squad, then re-signed him for 2011 and decided to look at him on the interior line in training camp.
It went well, and Wilson carried a lot of buzz with him into the preseason games, but he suffered an Achilles tendon injury in the second contest and was lost to injured reserve for the year. When he returned to full speed and to the practice field this spring, under a new coaching staff, he was back at his more familiar position. Now, however, his team needs him in a different spot – or, perhaps in the long run at both spots as a valuable reserve swingman – so it's back to learning a new set of assignments.
"I feel comfortable, but it's still a big transition because all I really know is defensive end," he said. "I only got to play [DT] for, what, the first two weeks of camp last year, so that was a short time. I'm still kind of transitioning, learning the ins and outs of the position.
"Things happen a lot quicker inside than they do outside. There's really a smaller margin for error in your technique and your footwork. So I'm trying to get adjusted to that."
The Buccaneers are still sorting out their depth along the entire defensive line, and the biggest need in the future could be back at end, or it could be on the inside. Wilson is seeking to prove he can be part of the answer either way.