Michael Wilson’s comfort level within Cardinals offense continues to evolve
Sep 25, 2023, 6:25 PM | Updated: Sep 26, 2023, 10:49 am
GLENDALE — Remember that buzz that centered around Arizona Cardinals rookie wide receiver Michael Wilson throughout organized team activities, training camp and the preseason?
So far, it’s carried over to where the games count.
Wilson’s stat line may not jump off the page through three games — seven catches on nine targets for 161 yards — but his usage within the offense cannot be overlooked.
The third-round rookie out of Stanford continues to build up experience behind three consecutive starts and seeing no fewer than 43% of the available offensive snaps in a given game.
It’s a credit to the work he put in over the course of the offseason up until now in addition to the trust he built up with head coach Jonathan Gannon and offensive coordinator Drew Petzing to earn the right to be an every-game contributor alongside the 1s.
“I think from Week 1 or even the preseason games, you can just feel it on tape when a player’s playing more confident,” Wilson said Monday. “I think that comes with experience. … I’m always confident in my game, but it’s just being more comfortable out there and being able to play more faster and more free, because you’re not thinking as much about the playbook, about the speed of the game, about just all the different variables that come in as a rookie.
“That’s the biggest thing I’ve taken strides in is just being more comfortable, playing more free and getting adjusted to the NFL game.”
Wilson was especially important late in the Cardinals’ 26-18 win over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3.
Hoping to stave off any more whiffs of a Dallas comeback midway through the fourth quarter, the rookie found himself in open space on a tone-setting first-down look from quarterback Joshua Dobbs and offensive coordinator Drew Petzing.
Taking what the zone look the defense was giving him in addition to the Cowboys defender flat out leaving the wide receiver mid-route, Wilson turned in one of the biggest plays of the afternoon on a 69-yard catch and run.
And while he didn’t score, he did help set up an eventual touchdown three snaps later with Dobbs finding fellow wide receiver Hollywood Brown for the two-yard touchdown.
— NFL (@NFL) September 24, 2023
“His point of attack is really good through the first three weeks,” Gannon said Monday. “What I love about Mike is when his number’s called, he wins. He’s made some big catches for us. The thing that people don’t see is the effort and the blocking and the different ways we deploy him.
“He knows 3-4 positions which is a lot for a rookie, especially in an offense like ours. We’re kind of multiple with different formations and shifts and motions. … He’s done a good job, will continue to do a good job and when his number’s called, that’s what I expect from him.”
There’s no doubt Wilson continues to stack weeks of practices and games one on top of the other.
The next big bucket to check off the list is simply getting more work with his hands.
The only time Wilson saw at least four targets come his way in 2023 was in Arizona’s season-opening loss to the Washington Commanders. These past two weeks, he’s totaled five combined.
“There’s still a lot of meat we left on the bone.”#AZCardinals rookie WR Michael Wilson talks Arizona’s Week 3 win over the Dallas Cowboys and getting back to work with the San Francisco 49ers next up on the docket.
— Arizona Sports (@AZSports) September 25, 2023
That kind of output can still impact games and even pace the team — as made evident Sunday in the form of two catches on two targets for 86 yards. But given Wilson’s ability and the Cardinals’ thinking on his potential as a legit every-down threat, the wide receiver should be in line for more looks, especially if quarterback Joshua Dobbs continues to push the ball down the field like he did against the Cowboys.
And just as he’s done early on in his NFL career, Wilson will be there ready to seize any and all opportunities that come his way while continuing to put the team’s needs over his own.
“The offense is tailored to the specific strengths and/or weaknesses of a player,” Wilson said. “We’re using (Rondale Moore) in the backfield, using him in the screen game and getting him the ball in space. … You see (Hollwood Brown) getting a majority of the targets, because he’s one of our better route-running receivers.
“I think I’m sort of in the middle of that right now where I’m just trying to play my role as best as I can and block really hard and do the dirty work and make the catches that come my way.”
With that kind of mentality, it’s a matter of when not if Wilson can move up the targets pecking order.
Wilson on his fellow Cardinals rookies making an impact early on in their career:
“It speaks mountains about the rookie class and to the front office for bringing in like-minded individuals. Monti and JG said they wanted to build a culture of high character guys who love football and do things the right way outside of the building, too.
“I think myself, (Kei’Trel Clark, Paris Johnson Jr., BJ Ojulari and Owen Pappoe) — I can name all the guys that are playing right now — but I think we all embody that. I got a lot of love for my rookie class and I think we got some special people and some special personalities in our class and it’s only going to get better from here, because we got the right people in the building who accept nothing but their best and winning.”