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All draft signs go for Terps' Wilson

The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK --Domonique Foxworth stood in an end zone of the practice field at the University of Maryland one afternoon last month, chatting with old friends and keeping a watchful eye on one of his proteges, Josh Wilson, as Wilson and other Terrapins seniors worked out for some NFL assistant coaches.

Two years ago, Foxworth was in the same place as Wilson - confident he was going to be drafted, but unsure of when or where he would wind up.

"It's different for everybody," said Foxworth, who was a third-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos and has started 12 games at cornerback in his first two seasons. "It's kind of hard to feel relaxed, but it's different than for someone who's on the bubble."

Wilson, a 5-foot-9, 189-pound cornerback, is clearly not on the bubble. According to scouts and others familiar with the selection process, Wilson will likely be a second-round pick when the NFL draft is held Saturday and Sunday in New York.

"Just because of what I bring to the table, I compare closely to those guys who may be in that first [-round] line," Wilson said earlier this month. "Maybe they play just corner or one side of corner. I've played five out of six positions in the secondary as well as special teams.

"I think I have a lot more upside than a lot of these guys."

After starting during his last 2 1/2 seasons with the Terps and being named All-Atlantic Coast Conference and an honorable mention All-American as a senior, Wilson improved his draft status in February at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. He impressed the scouts by running the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds and by bench-pressing 225 pounds 20 times.

Among defensive backs at the combine, Wilson's bench press ranked second only to that of Chris Wilson of Arkansas, and his 40 time was tied for third behind those of Chris Wilson and Tennessee's Jonathan Wade. Of the three, only Chris Wilson is expected to be a first-round pick.

Josh Wilson, who received his degree in marketing in December and won the Jim Tatum Award as the ACC's top student-athlete in football, said he answered 29 questions correctly and missed three of the 50 asked on the Wonderlic test, which NFL teams use to gauge players' intelligence.

"I think it's all pieces of the puzzle," said Kevin Coyle, defensive backs coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. "I think he did a really good job [at the combine]. Everyone knows that he's got great speed. That's a definite prerequisite to play cornerback in the NFL. He's a rare guy [for a cornerback] in terms of that kind of speed."

What also will help Wilson is the legacy of Maryland defensive backs who have gone to the NFL in the past 10 years. From veterans such as Chad Scott and Lewis Sanders to Foxworth, Madieu Williams and Curome Cox more recently, Maryland is starting to get a rep as DB-U.

'Well-schooled'

Scott, now with the New England Patriots, was a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1997 and Williams was the Bengals' second-round pick in 2004, but Sanders, who signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Falcons this year, was a fourth-round choice of the Cleveland Browns in 2000 and Cox, who could start at safety with the Broncos next season, went undrafted in 2005 before winding up in Denver.

Coyle, a former Maryland assistant (1994-1996) under Mark Duffner, agrees that Wilson will benefit from what his predecessors in College Park have done in the NFL.

"When you watch the Maryland DBs on tape, they're a well-schooled group of players," said Coyle, who coaches Williams in Cincinnati. "I think that does get people interested and maybe give that second look to those kind of guys knowing the kind of history."

If his speed is Wilson's biggest asset, his hands and overall size might be the biggest question marks.

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen recalled former defensive coordinator Gary Blackney questioning Wilson's ability to hold on to the ball when they were recruiting him out of DeMatha High School. Coyle and Cleveland assistant Mel Tucker, who also came to Maryland's Pro Day, quietly discussed it on the field while assessing Wilson.

Wilson has heard the same rap for a long time.

"The biggest thing isn't that people have actually seen that I can't catch or anything. The thing they're basically saying is that my hands are suspect because of my low ratio of interceptions to breakups," said Wilson, who had two picks to 25 pass breakups while at Maryland.

Ready with answers

Wilson tries to be proactive when it comes to the issue.

"Every time I go into a meeting, the first thing they ask me about are my interceptions," said Wilson, who has visited the Browns, New England Patriots and St. Louis Rams and talked with representatives of other teams. "Most of the time, I answer before they ask it."

Said Friedgen: "I think the biggest thing he's going to have to overcome is his size. His speed, he's probably faster than the other kids [who played defensive back at Maryland]. He's very aggressive."

Wilson credits Blackney, who was also his secondary coach the first three years at Maryland, and Tim Banks, who took over the secondary duties when Blackney retired after the 2005 season, for helping him learn the position well enough to have a chance to play at the next level.

"I think my technique has become better. I think I was more decisive last year," Wilson said. "He [Banks] made sure I was prepared in my technique and mentally to make that opportunity happen when the time came."

Aside from favorable comparisons to players such as Foxworth and Williams, what should also help Wilson is his ability to return kickoffs and possibly punts. As a senior, Wilson returned 31 kickoffs for 847 yards and ripped off a 100-yard return for a touchdown against Georgia Tech.

Friedgen said Wilson's speed and versatility are only part of what should make him attractive to pro scouts.

"His ace in the hole is his ability to return," Friedgen said. "I think that makes him extra valuable to a team. He's a good cover guy. He's very smart. He'll learn very well. In that league, that's very important; knowledge is money."

Wilson isn't sure where he will wind up.

"Nobody is going to give up their card. Nothing is guaranteed," said Wilson, whose late father, Tim, played at Maryland and later was the fullback blocking for Earl Campbell with the Houston Oilers. "It's hard to read. Everyone seems interested, and everyone hypes you up."

don.markus@baltsun.com

Is Maryland DB-U?

Chad Scott, New England Patriots -- Has become the senior member of this group. Joined the Patriots after playing his first eight years with the Steelers, who used a first-round pick to take Scott in 1997. Has 21 career interceptions, including four that were returned for touchdowns.

Lewis Sanders, Atlanta Falcons -- Signed as a free agent after spending his first eight years between Cleveland and Houston. The Browns drafted him with the first pick of the fourth round in 2000. Sanders has started periodically throughout his career, with five interceptions.

Madieu Williams, Cincinnati Bengals -- Has spent all three seasons with the Bengals and is now their starting free safety. Taken with the 24th pick of the second round in 2004, Wilson has been a productive player, with seven interceptions in his career.

Domonique Foxworth, Denver Broncos -- Has made 12 starts in his first two seasons with the Broncos, who took him in the third round (97th overall) in 2005. Intercepted a pass in his first career start that season. Started the last five games last season and has three interceptions to date.

Curome Cox, Denver Broncos -- An undrafted free agent two years ago, Cox has five career starts and could move into the starting lineup at safety next to standout John Lynch next season. Has two interceptions so far.

DON MARKUS

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