- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Jets coach Rex Ryan, who has a colorful analogy for any football situation, said it was like rookie cornerback Kyle Wilson was snakebitten. Here he was going up in practice against wide receivers Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery, getting beaten by them plenty, and then expected to head out on a Sunday and feel good about it.
"It's great training for him," said defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, "but it doesn't do a lot for your confidence covering those guys."
But Wilson can expect to be back in the secondary when the Jets head to Cleveland for Sunday's game.
With Antonio Cromartie on one side and Darrelle Revis on the other, the defensive backs in the nickel package are going to be targeted, which is exactly what happened last week. Drew Coleman gave up two completions, which Pettine said was partly on the corner and partly because the scheme left him hanging a bit.
"It kind of left some other guys on their own without help," safety Eric Smith said. "I think that's why they were able to take away some of the inside routes."
Still, the defense has to shore up the middle of the field in the future if they want to keep games from getting so close.
"It's something we addressed in practice," Coleman said. "We've just got to continue to work hard every week and me and Kyle, we've got to be ready to play Sunday because we know that's probably where they're going to wind up throwing the ball."
The upshot is that Wilson, who has been primarily a special-teams player for the past few weeks, will likely be splitting reps in the nickel with Coleman, according to Pettine and Ryan. The final evaluation will come after watching film of Wednesday and Thursday practices.
"I can see Kyle playing more," Ryan said. "Without question I can see Kyle playing more."
Wilson has had an up-and-down track record since being drafted by the Jets out of Boise State with the 29th overall pick. While Revis was holding out due to a contract dispute, Wilson was paired with Cromartie in taking first-team reps in Cortland, N.Y., at Jets training camp. The coaching staff talked up his raw athleticism.
He struggled in actual games, however, and the coaching staff ultimately replaced him with Coleman. But Wilson has improved steadily in practice as Coleman has given up some completions.
"You try to go with who's hot, you try to get reps to the guys that are playing well," safety Jim Leonhard said. "And they'll both get reps in this game."
The competition between teams happens on Sundays, but the competition for the top spot on the depth chart happens during the week. Dwight Lowery, Coleman and Wilson are three corners trying to better their position each time out.
"As a defense you're trying to grow every week," Leonard said. "And you realize teams aren't necessarily challenging us outside with Revis and Cromartie. We need to play smart and we need to adjust our game plan based on what we're getting and we're addressing that week in and week out."
In the meantime, the corners who aren't being used in the offense's reps will see more time on special teams, where coordinator Mike Westhoff is happy to have them. He said if he gets low on defensive backs he may throw rookie running back Joe McKnight in the mix.
Jane McManus is a reporter and columnist for ESPNNewYork.com.
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