AP Sports Writer
DAVIE — Even during the longest, hottest, most grueling training camp practice, Miami Dolphins rookie Jimmy Wilson wore a smile from ear hole to ear hole
“Could be a lot worse,” Head Coach Tony Sparano told Wilson.
Wilson's perspective is different from that of most players because of his unusual path to the NFL. He spent two years in jail on a murder charge before winning acquittal in July 2009.
Now, barely two years later, he has made the Dolphins' final roster as a cornerback and is preparing for their season opener Monday night against New England.
“It's a blessing considering where I've been and what I've been through,” Wilson said Monday. “The fact I can live my dream and make an NFL roster is something great. It's a story of perseverance, not anything bad.”
A seventh-round draft pick in April, Wilson learned he had made the final cut Saturday in typical NFL fashion. Nobody told him anything.
“It's one of the things where no news is good news,” he said. “When I looked at the clock and realized I didn't get a call, I was happy.”
The Dolphins' decision wasn't a surprise. Sparano has raved since the start of camp about Wilson – and not just his smile. The coach also likes the rookie's eagerness for contact and his knack for getting his hands on the ball.
Thickly built at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, Wilson began camp at safety before switching to cornerback.
“When you look at Jimmy's body, he doesn't look like a corner. He looks like a safety,” Sparano said. “But he's playing corner and the reason is he's around the football. He has good enough speed and, when the ball is in the air, he thinks it's his.”
NFL teams had the San Diego native on their radar as far back as 2006, when he completed his third year as a starter at Montana. The following June he was charged in the death of his aunt's boyfriend in the Los Angeles area.
Police said the boyfriend and Wilson's aunt had been fighting and Wilson went to the man's home and shot him to death with a rifle. Wilson said he acted in self defense.
Unable to post the $2 million bail, Wilson remained jailed through a trial that ended with a hung jury, followed by a second trial and an acquittal.
The Dolphins researched the case before picking Wilson in the final round of the draft.
“It's Jimmy's second chance,” Sparano said. “I'm excited that this guy has this opportunity and certainly it has been a long time coming for him.”
The Dolphins are deep at cornerback, with Vontae Davis and Sean Smith returning as the starters and Benny Sapp back as the nickel back. It's possible Wilson will be inactive for the opener but he has played on all of the Dolphins' special teams – coverage, return and placement units – and that's where he's most likely to see action in the early going.
He wins praise from teammates for his willingness to take on bigger opponents.
“Jimmy is a hard-nosed guy,” veteran safety Yeremiah Bell said. “He's little but he likes bullying guys around. Sometimes we have to back him off and tell him he can't butt everybody in this league. He's got to learn to use his hands a little more but, once he does, he'll be fine.”
Rust might be a factor. Wilson played in eight games last season at Montana but was slowed by a hamstring injury and those are his only games since 2006.
No wonder he's so glad to find himself in uniform as a 25-year-old NFL rookie.
“Every day I get a chance to play football,” he said, “I'm going to smile.”
Photo: Jimmy Wilson