Arizona Cardinals: Why Adrian Wilson Is Team's Most Important Veteran

John DegrooteCorrespondent IIAugust 30, 2012

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 11:  Safety Adrian Wilson #24 of the Arizona Cardinals walks off the field during the NFL season opening game against the Carolina Panthers at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 11, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Carindals defeated the Panthers 28-21.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Adrian Wilson is a quiet man, but when he speaks, people listen.

The five-time Pro Bowl safety, who is entering his 12th year in the NFL, is the Cardinals' most important veteran leader.

Wilson was already in a Cardinals uniform when the face of the franchise, Larry Fitzgerald, was drafted.

He played in a Super Bowl with the Cards in 2009, but has also played through the rough seasons where wins were hard to come by.

He mentored Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie when he was drafted in 2008, and is now Patrick Peterson's role model.

Wilson has stayed loyal to the Cardinals franchise, playing his entire NFL career with the team. He even agreed to take a pay cut this offseason to remain with the team. He was set to make $6.5 million this season, but instead, he’ll now earn $1.5 million plus a $1.5 million signing bonus.

In an interview with Craig Morgan of Fox Sports Arizona, Wilson said, “I gave my heart to this team. There’s no way I could leave here. There’s no way I could put my heart in another team.”

The 32-year-old Wilson leads by example. He made the Pro Bowl last year, despite playing with a torn biceps tendon, and played through a torn abductor muscle in 2010.

Wilson is what Fitzgerald is to the offense—a true pro, who knows when to speak up, says the right things and is respected league-wide for what he does on and off the field.

His leadership will be more important than ever this year. With the controversy under center, Wilson and the defense will have to make up for what will most likely be turmoil on the other side of the ball.

With the exception of Paris Lenon, the linebacker corps is very young, and while the middle linebacker may be making the calls, Wilson is the quarterback of the defense.

The Cardinals' secondary will need his leadership as well, and Wilson's mentoring of Peterson can go a long way in the team getting the max potential out of their fifth overall pick in 2011.

Ray Horton, who took over the Cardinals' defense last year, has noticed that Wilson is trying to leave a lasting legacy through his leadership.

In the same interview with Fox Sports Arizona, Horton said, “He’s more focused on making other guys around him better, and some of that means taking a lesser role. He’s accepted a leadership role and what that truly means.”

A lot of Cardinals players struggled in Horton's new defensive scheme last year, Wilson included. This offseason he worked even harder than normal to get a firm grasp of the scheme.

Fox Sports Arizona's Morgan writes:

It would be accurate to write that Wilson redoubled his efforts to learn that defense this offseason. In what Horton calls “behind-the-scenes stuff,” Wilson digested reams of film. He turned up his maniacal offseason workout regimen, and he chided any teammate who didn’t exhibit the same level of commitment.

Wilson has pushed his teammates this offseason and in the preseason. He has drilled into the rookies and veterans alike that it's the little things that count and they are what separate a mediocre team from a championship-caliber one. Wilson would know—he has been on both.

Adrian Wilson will be the catalyst this year on the Cardinals' defense. He may not record the most tackles, interceptions or sacks on the team, but the team will rely on him to be their leader—through thick and thin.