HENDERSON, Nev. — Yeah, you could say Tyree Wilson exhaled a bit when the defensive playcall came in with about eight minutes to play Sunday against the New York Giants.
Because with the Giants in the no-huddle and quarterback Tommy DeVito in the shotgun, the Las Vegas Raiders’ first-round draft pick, the No. 7 overall selection of this past spring’s draft, didn’t have to overthink the situation.
“I knew on the call, I could actually speed rush,” Wilson said with a shrug. “I’d been powering the dude [Giants left tackle Andrew Thomas] so I just took it up field. The quarterback was sitting there.”
Tommy, Tyree. Tyree, Tommy.
“And,” Wilson said, “I got the sack.”
Technically, Wilson had to share it with linebacker Robert Spillane, but Wilson wasn’t complaining. Not with him playing more freely of late, affecting opposing quarterbacks and, kinda, sorta justifying his draft slot.
Because in the wake of the Halloween firings of coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler, perhaps no player will come under more scrutiny than Wilson, the old regime’s only first-round draft pick. But was Wilson more trick — they knew he would take a while to round into shape, given his recovery time from November surgery on his right foot and a follow-up procedure in March — or treat with his raw physical ability?
In any event, his addition was supposed to make a team strength — pass rush from the edge across from two-time Pro Bowler Maxx Crosby — even stronger.
Chandler Jones’ off-the-field issues and his resulting release ramped up Wilson’s playing time more than anyone expected, and that may have played a role in stunting his early-season development. So Malcolm Koonce has been getting most of the run across from Crosby.
While Wilson’s playtime percentage has essentially remained the same since the season opener — he played in 50% of the Raiders’ defensive snaps at the Denver Broncos and in 51% against the Giants — his productivity has risen.
Consider: While Wilson did not have a pass-rush win until Week 4, he had a 22.2% pass-rush win rate at the Los Angeles Chargers that week, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, and was credited with creating not only a sack, but also an interception.
His first career sack came on a busted play against the Chicago Bears three weeks ago, when he chased Nathan Peterman toward the sideline five yards behind the line of scrimmage and forced a fumble on the final play of the first half.
Indeed, a strip-sack.
Wilson had a season-high four tackles against the Giants, after having three tackles in each of the previous two games.
“I think we’ve all seen the progress,” said Raiders interim coach Antonio Pierce. “It first started with, just get out of the stance. So we worked on that.”
Pierce laughed, alluding to Wilson’s ultra-slow get-off on the snap in the season opener.
“And, obviously, he’s a big human being, very talented,” Pierce continued about the 6-foot-6, 275-pound Wilson. “He’s going to be a good football player in his league. But this league is very humbling, you just don’t walk in Day 1 and become the guy. And I think he’s now embraced the process of working every day.”
Pierce said Wilson has been watching how the likes of Crosby and All-Pro receiver Davante Adams prepare day in and day out.
“I know he had half a sack [against the Giants], but more importantly, what he does for us in the run game, how vital he is setting the edge,” Pierce said. “Obviously, there’s still more growth there for him, but he’s a guy that has the right attitude to come to work. And I think he’s been humbled about his early experience.
“Coaching comes a lot easier when you get humbled.”
Especially when all eyes are on you as representing the most high-profile pick of an ousted regime.
“Really, I’m just controlling what I can control,” Wilson said. “You can’t control who’s the head of the building. All I can control is being there for my teammates and coming to work every day with the best attitude.”