- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Some players escaped to tropical islands for parts of the NFL lockout. Kyle Wilson opted for a different kind of island.
In late spring, the New York Jets' second-year cornerback spent a month with the best cornerback on the planet. Darrelle Revis invited Wilson to train with him at his favorite offseason facility, Fischer Sports in Phoenix, and Wilson's bags were packed before he hung up the phone.
Well, not really, but close. After a shaky rookie year, the Jets' 2010 first-round pick jumped at the opportunity to hang out with Revis. This was akin to an aspiring director being asked to spend a few days on the set with Clint Eastwood.
You go. You listen. You learn as much as possible.
"If you want to pick a guy to shadow to get yourself better, [Revis] isn't a bad choice," defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said Tuesday.
Say this for Wilson: He's eager to improve. He picked up and moved to Arizona, on his dime, working out with Revis and trying to think like Revis. Physical training aside, they spent an inordinate amount of time studying tape, mostly of wide receivers on the Jets' 2011 schedule.
Revis let Wilson into his world, sharing his insider secrets. He taught Wilson the importance of reading body language, how a receiver can tip his intentions. How you can tell if it's an out-breaking route by which leg is up in the receiver's stance. How you can determine if your man is the No. 1 read by his demeanor as he breaks the huddle.
Wilson went to Revis' offseason hideaway and, right there in the desert, discovered a fountain of knowledge.
"To bond with him, I thought that was big," said Wilson, who soon will be moving his locker so he can be next to Revis'. "When he called, I said I'd be there."
Wilson entered the league with a lot of hype, but he got roughed up by the Miami Dolphins in Week 3 and eventually lost his nickel-back job to Drew Coleman. More than his job, Wilson lost his confidence, according to his coaches. A cornerback without confidence is a gunslinger without a gun.
"It got a little overwhelming for him as a rookie," Pettine said.
After the season, the Jets' coaches did an intensive breakdown of Wilson's 2010 performance, evaluating every play. Removed from the week-to-week intensity of the season, they were able to look at him objectively and they determined that it was better than they thought. Reports of his rookie struggles were "overblown," according to Pettine.
On the first day of training camp, secondary coach Dennis Thurman summoned Wilson to his office and apologized. It's not often a coach will do that, but Thurman felt it needed to be said. Wilson thanked him.
"Yeah, we lost a little confidence in him, but we were trying to win games and the expectations were high," said Thurman, explaining why Wilson dropped on the depth chart. "When we looked at the cut-ups in the offseason, we saw that Kyle played pretty well overall."
But not well enough to prevent them from re-signing Antonio Cromartie to a four-year, $32 million contract, eliminating any chance of Wilson becoming a starter. He will remain a backup, but the nickel back could end up playing half the snaps because so many teams use three-receiver offenses.
Wilson prefers not to look back on his rookie year, but when pressed, he said, "Great learning experience and two words for it: Last year.
"I know I can play," he continued. "I strive for greatness. That's all I know, that's all I've been doing my whole life. It's nothing new."
Hanging with Revis was new. From 9 to 5, every day, they pushed each other. In the weight room. On the track. In cornerback-specific drills.
"I pushed him as hard as I could and I'm going to continue to push him as much as I can," said Revis, who sees it as a pay-it-forward gesture that began with the veterans that helped him when he broke in. "I'm trying to be a good mentor, get him in the right playing mode. I want to watch him become great."
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