Matt Wilhelm added a nice jolt of energy to the defense last Thursday when Takeo Spikes left the game with a gimpy hammy. Spikes is still recovering from that injury and is "day-to-day," according to Mike Singletary. If he can't go, Wilhelm, 28, will get his first start since Dec. 14 when he was a member of the Chargers.
I thought Wilhelm's answer to the third question was interesting for a number of reasons. One, it illustrates how the defense is designed to funnel ball carriers to the inside linebackers. It also shows that the role of the outside linebackers is more than just rushing the passer. Setting the edge on running plays is critical, and it's something that up-and-coming OLBs Ahmad Brooks and Diyral Briggs are still learning. Here's Wilhelm:
Did fresh legs contribute to his performance Thursday night?
"There was the excitement for the opportunity. And, you know, coach (Al) Everest on special teams does a great job. Once he saw that Takeo was probably not coming back in the game, he relieved me on some of those (units) so I don't have to run down on kickoffs and have to stay out on defense.
And I'm assuming your familiarity with the defense (Wilhelm played under Manusky in San Diego) helped you be aggressive.
"Well, definitely. I prepare each and every week - playing or not playing. I realize I'm one play away as I was in that game. That's my approach. I understand my role here on this football team and I do it to the best of my abilities."
It looked like you were having fun out there.
"I really was. And the biggest part was understanding that, with the three d-linemen in front of me along with Parys and Manny setting those edges, that ball's not going anywhere. So it allows Patrick and myself or TK and Patrick to stay within (the offensive tackles) .... We knew the Bears extremely well and right now we're focusing on knowing Green Bay the same way."
How much is your background with Manusky benefitting you now?
"It definitely is and, again, that's a key part of the reason why I am here and why I'm getting the opportunity. I do understand it extremely well."
Any differences from what San Diego runs?
"Yes there are. There are some wrinkles and things they do here differently. The d-lineman technique is a little different or angles are a little different. But those are the things you're paid to understand and know so that if an opportunity does arise, you can go out and play to the best of your ability.
The Packers use a lot of screen and slants. As an inside linebacker, will it be your role to jump those?
"Well, definitely. I think last week the Chicago Bears made some heavy yards in screen plays alone, so the Green Bay Packers are going to definitely see that, and it's going to be something they do within their game plan to defeat us because they understand we're going to focus on stopping the run and have them beat us with the throw or beat us because we bring so much pressure. So it's definitely something we're focusing on, and we realize the task at hand."
Coffee, corn flakes and ... Barrows? It's true. I could be part of the most important meal of the day Sunday if you join me for an in-game chat that'll begin before kickoff. Together we can second-guess Jimmy Raye, bad-mouth the officials and discuss the merits of Purell in an increasingly germy world. If you're lucky, I'll provide clues to the whereabouts of Maiocco's missing laptop. (I want small, unmarked bills and NO COPS, dammit!) All this while you're still tucked safely in that warm comforter you've dragged from your bed to the living room sofa. Lemme know if this interests you and we'll get the ball rolling for this weekend ...
-- Matt Barrows