Isaiah Wilson's issues with Titans are puzzling, even for those who know him best | Estes

Gentry Estes
Nashville Tennessean
View Comments

Kevin Fountaine hasn’t understood any of this.

He has reached out to Titans offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson, not to preach but to offer his help and guidance, the way a high school football coach does.

“It’s surprising to see. It’s sad to see, too,” said Fountaine, Wilson’s coach at New York’s Poly Prep. “I just hope he kind of wakes up a little. …

“It’s almost like he’s self-destructing on purpose.”

For a player drafted in the first round, Wilson's rookie season couldn't have gone much worse than it has to this point. His off-field issues have included a DUI arrest prior to the season's first game and an in-house suspension for the most recent one. He has been placed twice on the COVID-19 list. He has rarely been active for games.

It’s seemed a minor victory for the Titans just to have him on the practice field. Haven't been able to count on that each week, either.

On Wednesday, the Titans put Wilson on the reserve non-football illness list for what general manager Jon Robinson said were "personal issues, which will take some time for him to work through."

You hope he's OK.

He's not on the active roster. He’s not practicing again, and it's a strong hint that the Titans aren’t expecting him to play again this season.

By now, one has to wonder how much longer the Titans are willing to put up with Wilson.

More:Titans move first-round pick Isaiah Wilson to reserve/non-football illness list

The extra chances he's receiving are because he’s a first-round pick. NFL teams won’t win very often by wasting those picks the way the Titans – at least so far – appear to have wasted theirs in 2020 on Wilson, an offensive lineman from the University of Georgia. The Titans are starting to bend over backward to avoid that indignity.

There will be a limit at some point. Wilson is getting closer.

“This season hasn’t gone quite as well as it probably should have,” said Arkansas coach Sam Pittman, who was Wilson’s O-line coach at Georgia, “and he’s certainly had things to do with that himself.”

And we’ve still no idea whether Wilson can actually play in the NFL. We’ve barely seen him do it. Other than a handful of snaps in garbage time on Nov. 29 against the Colts, he hasn’t played for the Titans.

Wilson followed up his brief debut in Indianapolis by being suspended by the Titans for the following week’s game for “violating club rules.” That’s the kind of nonspecific explanation a college program gives about a rowdy freshman. You wouldn’t normally see it in the pros because, again, an NFL team would more easily release a troublesome player than worry about rehabilitating him.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel, however, stressed again Monday that the organization “is committed to trying to help Isaiah.”

Then two days later, the Titans put Wilson on the reserve list "with the hope that he can ultimately rejoin the team," per Robinson.

There's clearly more to this situation than most know.

When asked about Wilson earlier this week, prior to the Titans' placing him on reserve, Fountaine and Pittman each insisted that the rookie's  issues of this season have been out of character for the young man they knew.

“I just think sometimes when you play at these big programs at Georgia, you’re so structured,” Fountaine said. “Your life is on a spreadsheet. … He’s got some freedom and has some money. I don’t know. He’s not making great decisions, but he was never, never an issue while he was here.”

That’s similar to what I’ve been hearing about Wilson all year from those who knew him prior to the NFL: He’s not a bad guy. He is social and outgoing. He’s basically “like a big kid,” Fountaine said, remembering the SpongeBob SquarePants backpack that Wilson had.

Lack of maturity does seem a likely culprit behind his problems. Wilson has yet to turn 22. While he isn’t a good fit for the you’d-better-stay-at-home year of COVID-19, such quirks wouldn't seem capable of dooming a promising NFL career.

Pittman, in the midst of his first season in Fayetteville, said he has continued to speak with Wilson recently. While the Razorbacks coach didn’t want to specify what he told his former player, “The general conversation was, ‘You’re a grown man. You’re making grown-man wages. And you have responsibilities and you certainly have to abide by the responsibilities you have.’ ”

Wilson's former coaches sound concerned.

And for good reason. He is risking a pro football future that has barely started, potentially throwing away millions of dollars.

And it’s still unclear why.

“I hope and pray that he’s getting turned around,” Pittman said, “because I think he’ll have a lot of value in the NFL. He just got off to a rocky start.

“He can fix that, and I believe he will.”

Reach Gentry Estes at gestes@tennessean.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes. 

View Comments