F.I.S.T. It’s an acronym that gets repeated a lot, but rarely seems to be take a high priority in personnel decisions. It means Football Is Special Teams. A concept you may think Gruden doesn’t care much for based on the team cutting one of the most talented punters in the league.
Obviously the cutting of Marquette King had nothing to do with his talents. It was more about his personality not really meshing with Gruden’s, which is understandable. King is certainly a love or hate type of character. Not something you expect from a punter and his release tells you where Gruden sat on that spectrum.
It isn’t all about the punter, though. Sometimes a punt does the bulk of the work. Other times it needs help from the coverage team to get down there quick enough and smother the return man to keep him from taking back that yardage.
They say not to outkick your coverage and that’s an easier task when you have a smart coverage team.
For that, the Raiders signed a few guys who were not going to turn any heads but who may knock some together on the field. Namely, Kyle Wilber.
When I tweeted out his signing, I got a series of “Who?” responses from fans. Mainly because special teamers don’t get much attention (usually). Jon Gruden would like that to change (the right kind of attention).
“Kyle Wilber’s a name that Raiders fans are gonna love,” Gruden said last week at the owner’s meetings. “No one wants to talk about Kyle Wilber, nobody wants to talk about him, but he’s a hell of a special teams player now. I foresee him being a captain of our special teams, I really do. A couple years ago, when the Raiders were in the playoffs, I broadcast a game and they had [Brynden] Trawick and they had a guy named [Andre] Holmes and had another guy named [Daren] Bates and they did a great job on special teams.”
It’s interesting Gruden mentions the likes of Trawick and Bates. Both players spent just one season with the team despite their special teams abilities, showing there wasn’t nearly enough priority placed on that skillset. Trawick even stepped up and played a fine bit of safety when asked. But he was still shown the door. Then he was named to the Pro Bowl last season as a special teamer.
Wilber has never made a Pro Bowl as a special teamer. He has made a career for himself, though. The 6-4, 250-pounder spent all six years of his career in Dallas, the last five under Raiders new Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia.
Being a former 4th round pick can make some look at Wilber as a disappointment being that his main contribution isn’t at the position at which he was drafted. But it’s important not to let that discount that what has become his specialty, as Dave Halprin of SB Nation’s Blogging the Boys noted.
Kyle Wilber never found a position on defense. He bounced around at the linebacker spots and he was even used occasionally as a pass-rushing defensive end, but he never stood out and could never win a starting job for any length of time. He was mainly used when injuries had ravaged the defense and because he was so versatile he could fill in at different spots. Where he’s a useful player is on special teams. He’s a very consistent player there, and it seems like once a year he’ll make a huge play on special teams that will turn a game. He’s a good player to have on your roster because of special teams and his versatility, but you don’t want to depend on him for any length of time as part of your main rotation.
Halprin is exactly right. Not only does Wilber make stops on special teams, he creates turnovers, which lead to points. He has had three career forced fumbles; one on defense and two on special teams. He also have five fumble recoveries.
He forced a fumble in each of the past two seasons for the Cowboys, one of which, in the fourth quarter against the Vikings in 2016, he also recovered at the 8-yard-line. On the next play, Dak Prescott hit Dez Bryant for the go-ahead touchdown and the Cowboys won the game 17-15. That’s big time.
Wilber’s forced fumble last season came early in week 13 against division rival Washington. The game was scoreless at the time and the Cowboys would go on to win 38-14.
He’s also been among the Cowboys’ top five special teams tacklers each of the past four seasons and tied for the team lead in 2014 with 8 combined special teams tackles.
The Raiders will bring on another punter. Maybe in the draft or afterward. That punter’s job will be made a whole lot easier by having guys like Wilber laying blocks and chasing down the return man.