Yesterday's game assuredly confirmed one thing: This Wilkerson guy is good, you guys. Like, really, really good.
When I read that the main difference between this system and the one Rex employed was that the linemen were coached up to be aggressive and not to worry about making reads, I was concerned that this would take away one of the best parts of Wilkerson's game (and Sheldon Richardson too, for that matter). Wilkerson is such an instinctive player that if you take that responsibility away from him, you not only limit what he can do, but perhaps make it uneconomical to consider paying him big money when you can get a less-talented player to do the same thing.
On the basis of yesterday's display, I did not need to be concerned. Any lingering concerns that Wilkerson might not be motivated to play well this year can be similarly set aside.
Wilkerson had a great performance, blowing up multiple runs, disrupting the pocket and drawing a ton of attention as he provided a reminder of why there's even a discussion taking place about whether he deserves to earn a contract approaching a nine-figure sum. He was credited with one sack, on one of the plays where Johnny Manziel fumbled and was hardly ever handled at the line despite the fact he saw plenty of attention from pro bowlers Alex Mack and Joe Thomas. He even ran over Mack up the middle for a pressure on one play.
If Williams is going to be better than Wilkerson one day, he still has a way to go, but it was still a solid debut from the rookie. He did a good job of bottling up runs, getting penetration and forcing the quarterback out of the pocket. Williams almost had a couple of sacks, missing one chance to make a tackle in the pocket and tripping Johnny Manziel for a short gain on a play where he had to take off. There was one play against the run where a good reach block prevented him from getting downhill, but otherwise he wasn't blocked out of too many plays.
Anchoring the line, Damon Harrison had a couple of tackles in the backfield, including one on a play where Wilkerson blew up a double-team to free him up. He also got some good defensive penetration. However, he was driven out of the middle more than you would usually expect to see. I think Harrison probably has the biggest adjustment to make in terms of the new system, so would expect him to get better as the season goes along.
You have to give Leger Douzable credit. The fan favorite was a late re-addition in free agency and his roster spot wasn't exactly secure when they brought in three veterans including a player who had played for Bowles in the past. However, he's been playing with the first-team nickel all preseason and has kept that role into the regular season, even with Wilkerson's return. He, for the time being, has a pretty significant role. It will be interesting to see how that changes when Richardson is back.
Douzable might not rack up big numbers, but did a consistent job of driving back the pocket to enable other players to generate pressure or force the quarterback out of these. He also drew two holding penalties, one on Mack as he was able to stunt up the middle and would have hit the quarterback and another as he was tackled to the ground while Manziel took off and he tried to make the tackle. He did jump offside once though, almost timing the snap count well enough to tackle the quarterback before he handed the ball off.
I liked the fact that TJ Barnes and Stephen Bowen got a handful of reps off the bench. Under Rex Ryan, defensive players would often be active but then not get many reps as he overused his starters. It wasn't exactly encouraging to see the run defense gashed as soon as they entered the game though, as both were handled at the line. Bowen does get some good traction going forwards, but does seem to risk a hands-to-the-face call quite a lot.
Next up...the linebackers hold up well, with some contributions off the bench too...