He swears like a sailor and demands perfection. His players describe him as “feisty,” “very aggressive,” “different” and “a character.” Todd Bowles says he’s the “sole reason” for the impressive play of Jets rookie safeties Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams this year.
He is Dennard Wilson. And in his first season as Gang Green’s defensive backs coach, he has made as big of an impact on the team as any coach or player at One Jets Drive.
“If it weren’t for him, I feel like we’d be terrible. We would be awful,” Maye told the Daily News Friday in Florham Park, as the Jets prepared for a home matchup with the Chargers this weekend. “I could honestly say I’ve learned probably more ball within these couple months than I have since I’ve been playing football.”
“I feel like I can say that for pretty much everybody in our room,” Maye added. “I feel like Coach D is everything.”
Wilson – a former assistant with the Rams who joined Bowles’ staff in January after the organization parted ways with previous defensive backs coach Joe Danna – has turned around a Jets secondary that was among the league’s worst last season.
Obviously, adding better players helped. Adams and Maye are talented youngsters who the Jets acquired with their first two picks in the draft. They stabilized the safety position after Calvin Pryor and Marcus Gilchrist struggled in 2016. Morris Claiborne, who signed a one-year deal with Gang Green this offseason, has emerged as a legitimate No. 1 corner, matching up admirably with opponents’ top receivers.
But Wilson’s role in getting the best out of his players cannot be overlooked.
“He’s a natural-born leader,” safety Rontez Miles told the News. “He’s been put on this Earth to lead, a group of guys, a team maybe one day. He just knows his sh-t, and you can tell he knows because, since he’s been here, I dramatically grew as an individual, as a player.”
Miles said Wilson started having an influence from the moment he arrived at the Jets’ facility.
“From Day One, as soon as he opened his mouth,” Miles said, snapping his fingers, “it was a contagious reaction.”
Maye admires how “detailed-oriented” Wilson is. Several defensive backs in the Jets locker room, including Maye, related a regular occurrence: Wilson will focus on on a specific play or scheme from that week’s opponent, something he picked up on while watching film. And come game day, the offense will run exactly what Wilson was preaching in practice.
“Every game,” Maye said, chuckling. “He’s literally 100 percent on the season.”
The detailed advice isn’t only for the young guns, either. Buster Skrine, a 28-year-old veteran, said this week he’s been a “smarter player” this season because of Wilson. One example: Skrine plays nickel cornerback for the Jets, a position that functions almost like a linebacker in Bowles’ scheme. Under Wilson’s guidance, Skrine has started reading offensive linemen pre-snap, something he’d never done before in his career.
“You can look and see if a lineman has a heavy hand, which means he’s down in the ground super hard. That means it’s going to be run,” Skrine said.”If he’s sitting back, it’s going to be pass. So right there, I already know what’s about to come.”
Wilson is affecting Jets defensive backs of all ages this season. But perhaps his most important contribution is how he’s aided the development of Maye and Adams.
Todd Bowles says Dennard Wilson is the “sole reason” for the impressive play of Jets rookie safeties Marcus Maye (left) and Jamal Adams (right) this year.
Miles, now in his fifth NFL season, is jealous of Maye and Adams, who he feels are garnering a valuable “foundation” from Wilson in their rookie seasons.
“I can say if I would have came in with him as a rookie,” Miles said of Wilson, “I probably would have been years ahead of where I am now.”
Players believe it’s Wilson’s intense demeanor that helps make him such a successful coach and communicator.
“You need tough love sometimes,” second-year cornerback Juston Burris told the News.
“He’s brought a lot of energy,” Bowles said. “I finally found one person that swears more than I do.”
“We always joke with him in the meetings about his cursing,” added Burris. “He’s always saying, ‘All right, I ain’t gonna curse today.’ That will never happen.”
Maye said Wilson “definitely has two personalities.” On the practice field, he’s a football junkie and brazen perfectionist.
“He always tells me I’m an angry black man,” Miles said. “He an angry coach!”
Off the field, though, Wilson is a useful resource, friend and mentor.
“It doesn’t matter the time of day,” Maye said. “You can call to ask him anything about anything.”
Miles thinks Wilson brings a “head-coach mentality” to the defensive backs room, and Bowles believes Wilson is destined to be in charge of a team one day.
“I see all of that in him,” Bowles said.
Which begs the question: How long will Bowles be able keep Wilson around?
“As long as I can,” Bowles said.