Second-year safety J.J. Wilcox said he thinks of himself as the starter, even though it didn’t mean anything Tuesday on the first day of OTAs.
“You have to start somewhere with a rotation,” he said after working alongside Barry Church with the first-team defense. “My name was up first. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to start. But it’s how I’m going to attack it. It’s how I’m going to prepare for it.”
He said the coaches already want him to be a leader, despite his inexperience, because of the nature of the position.
“I understand that I only got one year under my belt, but I still have to communicate and be a leader back there in the backfield,” Wilcox said. “My cornerbacks and my other safety and my linebackers help me with it and understand that I’m going to be a leader. That’s a role I’m going to have to step in and be.”
Wilcox, a third-round pick last year, won the staff’s confidence as a rookie in training camp. Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the team was prepared to make him the starter over veteran Will Allen.
But the death of his mother interrupted camp for Wilcox, and his momentum stalled. It wasn’t until Week 3 that Wilcox regained the starting job, but five weeks later he hurt a knee and missed three games. He finished with four tackles and one pass breakup, but did not cause a turnover.
Did it feel like almost a lost season?
“Almost. It almost was,” Wilcox said. “I had to get myself together, understand I had to be physically and mentally tough, and it taught me a lesson. It taught me a lesson that she’s not here physically, but she’s here mentally, and it just helped me be a stronger man.”
Wilcox said he is back to where he was in camp last year before his mother’s death.
“I think so,” he said. “I think the game slowed down a little bit for me. My teammates are helping me progress. Sean Lee, Barry Church on the other side, they pushed me all offseason to get better and to understand the game. And I think that as a rookie, until your second year, that’s the thing you have to most understand, is the game and the speed of it.
“I’m still young in the backfield. I’m still learning the defense and all, how the offense attacks, but I think I’m growing on it, and it makes a difference. It makes me play faster.”
Wilcox said he still has as much confidence in himself this year as last.
“Oh, yeah. You got to have confidence coming into this league,” he said. “And I definitely think I’m capable of doing it, which I haven’t shown. I just want to keep getting better and just keep working and help this team out and just improve and get some more wins.”
-- Carlos Mendez