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Raiders’ former top pick makes offseason gains: ‘It’s a big difference’

Updated May 22, 2024 - 7:05 am

Tyree Wilson’s offseason this year is far different than the one that came before.

Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham explained the difference quite simply at the team’s organized team activity Tuesday.

“He’s doing what everybody else is doing,” Graham said.

Graham’s words are poignant, as simple as they may be. That normalcy could be what unlocks Wilson, the seventh overall pick in the 2023 draft.

The 24-year-old was burdened last year with rehabilitating the serious foot injury he suffered his final season at Texas Tech. Wilson has spent this offseason working on his pass-rush craft as well as his strength and stamina. He’s been free to focus on football and football alone.

“It’s a big difference,” Wilson said. “You can come in and not think about the injury and just focus on ball and your technique and get better every time you come on the field.”

Wilson’s situation is the complete opposite of what it was a year ago.

He wasn’t cleared for football activity when the Raiders held OTAs after he was drafted. He was forced to work behind the scenes rehabbing his foot.

He wasn’t given the green light to start practicing on even a limited basis until the last week of training camp.

The ramifications of Wilson’s delayed start were obvious.

He looked slow and uncertain coming off the line of scrimmage during the early parts of his rookie season. The explosiveness he had in college wasn’t there.

“I was definitely playing catch up,” Wilson said. “And I was still limited in the movement, just because of the foot.”

Wilson admits now it was a trying time.

“At the beginning it was frustrating,” Wilson said. “Because, you know, you’re coming in from college being that guy and then you’re back at the bottom and you’ve got to work your way back up.”

Wilson offered glimmers of hope the last five games of the season. He picked up two of his four sacks, 15 of his 24 quarterback pressures and 10 of his 16 quarterback hurries in that stretch.

The key was a late-season decision by the Raiders to slide Wilson inside on passing downs. It gave him favorable matchups against centers and guards, while also forcing him to work on his technique.

“It teaches them to use their hands, because they’re dealing with a more immediate block from the guard or center,” Graham said. “So I thought that was really critical to Tyree’s development. That’s going to help him out on the edge.”

Wilson said there were other benefits, both mentally and physically.

“Me bumping inside really, really slowed down the thinking,” Wilson said. “It helped with my eyes and my hands. Because you really don’t have much time to think. It’s on you quick, so all you can do is react. And when you work on the inside and then move back outside, everything slows back down.”

That late-season push set the tone for Wilson’s offseason.

He did extensive work with a personal pass-rush coach and learned from Maxx Crosby at the Raiders’ Henderson headquarters.

Crosby, a notorious stickler for good eating habits and fundamental work, has clearly had an impact on Wilson. The second-year pro looks more muscular. The fundamentals he flashed Tuesday were also far more advanced than the ones he showed his rookie season.

“He just pushed me to be better, always asking me what’s your eating, who’s your nutritionist, how are you stretching?” Wilson said. “Just stuff that makes me better.”

It remains to be seen what it all means on the field. But an improved Wilson would have a dramatic effect on a defensive line that features Crosby, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and much-improved edge rusher Malcolm Koonce. Graham is excited about the group’s potential.

“You can always feel those guys on the field,” Graham said. “Whether you hear them or you feel them, it’s a beautiful thing to see.”

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on X.

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