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Why Isaiah Wilson was the right pick, from the man who helped mold him

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 07 SEC Championship Game

The Titans decided to use their first round selection in 2020 NFL draft on Georgia offensive linemen Isaiah Wilson. Like all draft picks, the reaction was met with mixed results from the fan base. I decided to take a deep dive into what the Titans are getting in Wilson, and who better to do that with than the 32-year coaching veteran that helped mold him?

Wilson was coached at Georgia by Sam Pittman, one of the better offensive line coaches in all of football. Coach Pittman recently left Georgia for the head coaching job at Arkansas, a role that we’re excited to watch him succeed in.

He’s no stranger to offensive line talent. Throughout his illustrious career, he’s coached big-time talents such as Andrew Thomas, Isaiah Wynn and Frank Ragnow just to name a few.

Coach Pittman had a front-row seat to Wilson’s development. His path to becoming a first round pick came through loads of hard work and dedication, and it wasn’t always easy. Coach Pittman and I discussed Wilson’s development and work ethic, the physical traits he brings to the game, and why Tennessee was the perfect landing spot for him.

JM: Isaiah Wilson arrived at Georgia as a five-star prospect, but he red-shirted the 2017 season. What was your initial impression of him?

SP: He was a big, strong, raw and athletic young man. That much was very obvious at first sight. I’ve always believed in the philosophy that you can ruin a kid by playing him too fast. He wasn’t quite ready. If the rules back then had been like they are today where you can play four games without losing any eligibility, he probably wouldn’t have red-shirted. We would have gotten him out there a little bit.

I understood that as a younger player, he played better in the games than he looked in practice. We had to make a decision and we had Andrew Thomas at right tackle and Isaiah Wynn at left tackle. Both of those guys were legitimate first round talents and Wilson was a raw, young man. We made a decision not to waste that year with him playing behind some of those guys.

Georgia got two years out of Wilson, and maybe we should have played him earlier since he ended up leaving as a red-shirt sophomore (laughs). However, that was the thought process behind the decision to red-shirt him.

JM: It makes total sense. I’m curious to know more about his physical transformation. I read that when he first arrived at Georgia, he was about 380-pounds and couldn’t make it through a practice. He weighed in at 350 at the combine and had about 18% body fat which is incredible. That’s quite the transformation.

SP: To be completely honest with you, he was 383 pounds when he showed up out of high school. He didn’t look heavy to me. He was just this big mountain of a man. He played at Georgia at around 330 pounds, maybe 328. As he was preparing for the draft, he must have bulked up a little bit in the weight room to get back up to 350. The strength and conditioning staff, Scott Sinclair and his people did a terrific job with him. They got him in shape and well conditioned.

He never had a problem with conditioning. There may have been a few games where we had a 14-play drive near the end of the game and he may have gotten a little winded but he can go a long time for a big man. He played more snaps during his freshmen year than any other offensive linemen I had.

JM: That speaks volumes about his physical transformation. Georgia ran a lot of wide zone throughout your time there. He’s going into an outside zone scheme with the Titans. How much do you think his experience and familiarity with the system will aid him in his transition?

SP: Experience obviously helps you with playing the technique. He’ll have lots of experience running those particular plays. Experience also breeds confidence. I was actually very excited that he was drafted by Tennessee. I think he’s such a good fit for them. I think he’ll walk into Tennessee and be extremely confident from the get go. He played in a very similar system for two years at Georgia.

JM: I find that very interesting. I want to expand on his fit with the Titans. You love the fit. Why is that?

SP: I think they’re a big, physical football team that wants to hit you in the mouth (laughs). They have an excellent running back behind their strong offensive line. I think that’s what Wilson was at Georgia and I think that’s where he fits in at the next level. When we recruited that group, him and Andrew Thomas, we changed our offense to a zone scheme. We did that because we believed we could get that recruiting class on the field a little bit faster that way. It was a simpler offense. We changed what we did on offense when we recruited him.

JM: That’s a great tidbit. Did the Titans ever reach out to you throughout the pre-draft process to get more information on Wilson?

SP: Absolutely. I had a great conversation with their center Ben Jones. Of course you know that he’s a former Georgia grad himself. I don’t know for sure, but I would imagine that Ben Jones is the leader of their offensive line down in Tennessee. I spoke with several members of their coaching staff as well. They certainly did their homework on Isaiah Wilson. I told them the truth about what I think he can work on and what he’s already good at. We spoke about his character as well.

JM: You spoke with Ben Jones before the draft? Was he discussing Wilson with you?

SP: Yeah, I spoke with Ben Jones several weeks before the draft. With him being a Georgia grad, I would have spoken with him regardless of their interest in one of my guys. Isaiah Wilson was certainly a point of emphasis throughout our conversation however. We tried to reach out to all of the Georgia guys while I was there, especially the offensive linemen that played there. I wanted them to know how much I appreciated them and that they’re always welcomed back. I’ve just struck up a particularly good relationship with Ben Jones.

JM: That’s amazing. We’ve discussed Wilson’s size and strength at great length, but what else will make him a successful player at the next level?

SP: I think he’s very athletic for a big guy. He still has some work to do with his technique. He hasn’t played as much football as a lot of other kids. I think the sky is the limit for him. I’m not saying that he’s going to go in there and struggle. That’s not what I’m saying at all. I felt like he was a first round pick. I just think he can get so much better than he is today. He hasn’t played a lot. He played at Poly Prep [high school] in Brooklyn and he played a little tail-back for them (laughs). He came to Georgia and played two full seasons. I think he has a bright future ahead of him. He’s very athletic and smart.

JM: You mentioned technique as an area he could improve in. If I was looking for a negative on tape, he was a little vulnerable to inside spin counters. How can he fix that going forward?

SP: I think it’s all in his punch. He needs to get a great location of where he wants to hold his hands. He has to be consistent with that. Now, that doesn’t just go for Isaiah Wilson. That goes for every single player going from college to the pros. You have to know where to hold your hands. As soon as he gets that punch a little bit better, I think he’ll be very hard to beat in pass protection. Once he does that, I think he’ll eliminate that inside move.

JM: We appreciate that insight. From the day he arrived to the day he left Georgia, which aspects of his game developed the most?

SP: He worked very hard to learn the game. Whatever our technique was, of course we asked him to do it well. He consistently showed positive results in that area and continued to improve. I mentioned earlier that he needs to continue to improve his hands, but they’re a lot better today than they were when we first arrived at Georgia.

JM: He has those 35-inch arms which I know is a dream for an offensive tackle coach. I know how important that is to you. What’s your philosophy on teaching hand technique to a guy that’s blessed with long arms such as himself?

SP: You’re recruiting those guys that have long arms for a reason. It’s the baseline to not allow a defender to have an advantage over you. The bottom line is the timing of your punch. It allows you to punch on a slightly upward track. It allows you to kick your hips and your shoulders back if you do it correctly. If I’m punching and my shoulders go forward, that’s it, it’s over. I don’t care how long my arms are, they might as well be 14-inches short at that point. It has to be a slightly upward projection on the punch. That’s what makes those shoulders go back, and the timing of it is very critical.

JM: I love how in-depth that is. We appreciate the knowledge, and I’ve really appreciated your time today, coach. In closing, you’ve been coaching for 32 years and you’ve had so many good offensive linemen. What sort of projection do you see for Isaiah Wilson’s pro career?

SP: He’s going to work incredibly hard. I’m sure he’s going to have an outstanding offensive line coach in Tennessee. Athletically, he can go in there and be very good as a right tackle or whichever side they want him to play on. I think he can go inside and play guard as well. I think he’s so massive and he has such good feet that I think he’ll eventually be one of the better offensive linemen in the NFL.