NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma is counting on Julian Wilson to be a different player this season.
The Sooners' nickel back will step into a starting role as a junior and OU hopes he can develop into a consistent playmaker in 2013. Wilson had 31 tackles, including two tackles for loss, five pass breakups, five passes defensed and three hurries in spot duty last season.
Much more is expected this year.
“I have a big role, I have big shoes to fill,” Wilson said. “Coach [Mike] Stoops expects a big year out of me, so I have to uphold his word and basically go out there and be more of a playmaker than I was last year. Last year I wasn’t really confident in myself and this year I feel way more confident in my role.”
The added confidence comes from Wilson’s better understanding of requirements of the Sooners' defensive system and how to succeed under Stoops.
“[I'm] understanding the defense more,” Wilson said. “Last year I knew what [responsibilities] I had but didn’t know what everyone else had. In college football the little things are so important, athleticism can only take you so far, the mental aspect is part of the game too.”
His role will be an expanded one as the Sooners’ defense transforms into a more versatile unit. Wilson could be asked to blitz on one play, cover a quick slot receiver on the next play then fill a gap in the running game a few plays later. At 6-foot-2, 199 pounds, Wilson has the size and speed to become a critical component in OU’s defense.
“Julian is doing an excellent job,” head coach Bob Stoops said. “He’s much more confident and sure of himself. He’s a big, physical guy in the secondary that I’m excited about. I think he has a chance to have a really good year.”
Yet Wilson will have to play much more physical to truly become one of the Sooners’ top defenders. He’ll have to be willing to use his size to make an impact on running downs or the Sooners, who allowed a Big 12 worst 5.15 yards per carry in 2012, could risk being susceptible to the run for the second straight year.
Developing his body with a focus on becoming more physical became a priority for Wilson this summer. He made sure he ate healthy with a focus on gaining quality weight, not just packing on pounds. The resulting 10 to 12 pounds he gained should help him as a junior.
“I had to pick up some weight during the offseason to become more physical,” he said.
Teammates have noticed the change. And not just the change in his physique.
“He’s more physical now,” linebacker Corey Nelson said. “Just watching him out there on the field, he’s way more physical now. He’s playing more like a linebacker whenever he has to roll into the box.”
With the Sooners counting on him for the first time in his career, Wilson is focused on making sure he doesn’t let his teammates or the coaching staff down.
“I have to make way more plays, last year there were plays I could have made,” Wilson said. “I just have to compete more and be a playmaker on the defense.”