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After injury, Cards' Wilson has high hopes for '08

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -Adrian Wilson believes he is the best safety in the NFL.

Some may doubt that after his injury-shortened 2007 season with the Arizona Cardinals.

"I hope not," Wilson said. "If so, they're going to have a rude awakening."

The 28-year-old Wilson has played with a bad attitude since the Cardinals drafted him out of North Carolina State in 2001. This year, he's even more angry.

"I'm more motivated," said Wilson, a Pro Bowler in 2006. "It's just for me to go out and prove that. Last year, I took a step back, and now I've got to kind of gain two steps to get back to where I was."

Wilson snubbed reporters for the first few days of training camp before agreeing to speak during a break from practice Tuesday at Northern Arizona University. One reason for his silence: He didn't want to answer questions about the heel injury that ended his season after nine games and eventually required surgery. It was Wilson's first trip to the injured-reserve list.

"I'm here to show everybody that I'm back," Wilson said. "I just needed a few days to kind of get the rust off and just go out there and be Adrian, without having to answer questions about my injury or anything like that."

Wilson shook some rust off Saturday, when he nailed running back J.J. Arrington during a supposed no-contact drill in the Walkup Skydome. The thundering hit sent a ripple through hundreds of spectators.

"It was just a situation where it was kind of first day of pads and you kind of get anxious to get out there and get that first hit out," Wilson said. "Unfortunately, it was J.J."

Was Wilson sending a message to enemy ball carriers?

"It wasn't a message," he said. "I have plenty of time to prove who I am."

Last year was a forgettable one for Wilson, who had only two interceptions and no sacks in nine games.

"I didn't make a lot of big plays early on during the season, but I felt like I was playing at a high level," Wilson said. "Whenever you've got a target on your back, it's hard to go out there and do the things that you did the previous year."

The Cardinals need a healthy Wilson to fortify a unit that ranked 28th in pass defense a year ago. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Wilson can perform double duty, dropping back in coverage or blitzing from a linebacker's spot.

"I think he's gotten better and better every year," defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said. "Every player has room for improvement, and he knows that, and he wants to be the best, so I only see him making more and more strides."

Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart said he's seen Wilson develop in the last two seasons.

"There's only a few people, I think, in this league that when you look at a defense, you have to game-plan around one guy, and Adrian's one of them," Leinart said. "You always have to know where 24 is. He's gotten a lot better in pass coverage over the years. He's as fast as anybody and he hits as hard as anybody - probably harder than anybody. So he's a great guy to have on your team."

Wilson knows his teammates respect him. He wants to show the rest of the league he's the same player he was before the injury.

If history is any indication, a motivated Wilson is a scary proposition.

In 2005, Wilson had eight sacks, a record for a defensive back. But when he didn't make the Pro Bowl that season, Wilson stewed - then used the snub as fuel for his finest pro season.

In 2006, Wilson matched a career high with four interceptions, forced a career-high four fumbles and had five sacks. He also returned a fumble and an interception 99 yards for touchdowns. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he was the first player in NFL history to score two touchdowns of 99 or more yards without returning a kickoff.

Wilson could no longer be ignored and earned his first Pro Bowl selection.

Now Wilson is ready to have another big season. His heel feels good and he's looking like his old self in the first week of workouts among the tall pines.

That's good news for the Cardinals, who are aiming for only their second playoff berth since the team arrived in Arizona in 1988.

"I'm good for three (victories)," Wilson said with a chuckle. "So you can take it how you want to take it."

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