NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 30: Coach Jim Grobe of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons talks with field judge Jeff Noggle during play against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl at LP Field on December 30, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. Mississippi State won 23-17. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
What were the Wake Forest's LB's responsibilities in college? How did he fare against elite competition? A discussion with someone who saw him up close and personal for the last four years.
The second in a series of Q&A's about the Cowboys draft class of 2012 with the people who know them best: the writers who covered them in college. Today, we've brought in Riley Johnston from Blogger So Dear, SB Nation's Wake Forest blog, to talk all things Kyle Wilber.
1) How good a pass-rusher can Wilber be on the next level? He had only 13.5 career sacks at Wake.
Based on what I have seen out of Kyle Wilber over the past four years at Wake Forest I believe that he can be a very good SAM linebacker for the Cowboys. He really fits into the 3-4 scheme well and should challenge Victor Butler for the backup role behind Anthony Spencer at the strong side. He will likely get in there on Nickel packages where he will be asked to really get after the QB and make plays to stop the RB on running plays.
The game that sticks out to me the most this year for Wilber is the Florida State game where the Deacs won 35-30. Wilber was just all over the place and the FSU offensive line could do absolutely nothing about him. In the 4th quarter we were lining him up all over the field and he was terrorizing the o-line, shredding blocks and nailed Manuel several times.
His capabilities of getting past his blockers and intelligence on reading the schemes of the offense are probably his top two qualities from what I have seen. I read a couple of articles that noted how well Wilber did on tests that Dallas coaches and staff asked him about their defensive scheme. It is important to note that although he only had 13.5 sacks, he racked up 35.5 TFL in his career and a lot of those numbers came from the defensive end position, where he wasn't as effective.
All in all he is a very effective blitzer, and although I have seen concerns about his ability to be a 3-4 LB in the NFL, I think he will squash those fears and could challenge Spencer for the starting role a year from now.
2) He transitioned from DE to OLB in his senior season; was he more effective with his hand on the ground or standing up in college?
As noted in the last answer, Wilber switched from a DE to an OLB from his sophomore to junior year at Wake Forest because Coach Jim Grobe installed a 3-4 as opposed to a 4-3. Many Wake fans thought this was a bad idea at the time because of how good he was at DE, but I think the coaching staff made the right move not only for Wake Forest, but for Wilber as well because his role in the NFL is definitely going to be at linebacker.
He emerged his senior year as a serious threat at linebacker, and although his numbers weren't as impressive as they could have been, he was extremely disruptive and did a lot of things that don't necessarily show up on the stat sheet to help the team. In a role that he will assume in Dallas as a Nickel blitzer I really think that he could have some pretty good numbers for a rookie year. Other than Green Bay, Dallas is probably the best place that Wilber could have gone to play to his strengths. Both should mutually benefit from this draft pick.
3) How did he perform against the run and in coverage as an OLB?
I'll be blunt, the weakness for Wilber is probably his pass coverage. He is very, very good at seeing the running back, getting off blocks and making the tackle so I don't think that will be a problem for him in the NFL. His passing coverage needs a fair amount of work because of the lack of explosion that he has. Wake Forest didn't ask him to drop back all that often, and when he did it was in more of a QB Spy role.
He should do an above average job of covering any RB's in the flats or across the middle, but he will struggle if Rob Ryan asks him to drop back and cover some slot receivers. Fortunately it seems that he will just be asked to go after the QB and hit the running back.
4) Who were the best OT's Wilber faced at Wake and how did he perform against them?
I'm probably not the best person to ask about this because of my admitted lack of knowledge regarding offensive lineman. I am almost positive he went against Michael Oher in 2008 when Ole Miss came to Winston-Salem, but I may have missed that by a year. I know he went up against Andrew Datko of Florida State for 3 years (I believe Datko misses the 2011 game due to his shoulder injuries), and I would say that Datko was one of the better players that Wilber faced.
The thing that Wake was able to do with Wilber was line him up all over the field to get him in a position to make plays wherever he needed it. He certainly had his share of weaknesses, but a lot of them were masked or overlooked by the fact that he was learning a new position and could put his hand in the dirt or drop back. It will be interesting to see what weaknesses come to light in the OTA's and camps leading up to the pre-season and regular season.
5) What's a realistic expectation for Cowboys fans to have about Wilber, especially as a rookie?
I somewhat answered this in the first question, but I think that he will compete for the backup job at SAM linebacker and get a lot of snaps at the nickel spot for the Cowboys in his rookie season. He will likely make a few big plays (i.e. sacks, TFL), but I could also see him going through some growing pains if he is asked to drop back and defend too often.
If Ryan is as good as I think he is at the DC spot then I think Wilber can have a very successful rookie season. The best part is that he is a very intelligent man and a student of the game, so any of his weaknesses that are spotted by the staff will very likely be worked on all season and off-season by Wilber so he can get better. I really think he can have a long stay in the league if he stays healthy and continues to work as hard as he did here at Mother So Dear.