TAMPA, Fla. Hes a key component of the Tampa Bay Bucs free-agent trifecta that made such a splash in March. And now cornerback Eric Wright is finally getting up to speed as a valued addition to the evolving secondary.
While star wide receiver Vincent Jackson and All-Pro guard Carl Nicks have been busy making an impact on offense, Wright hasnt been nearly as regular a presence in offseason workouts.
On Tuesday, the sixth-year veteran who signed a five-year deal worth 37.5 million attributed his less-than-steady participation to a few personal issues I had to attend to.
Wednesday, head coach Greg Schiano confirmed that the former standout for the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions was dealing with a health matter not related to the game, though he didnt disclose any details.
But Schiano said he was encouraged by what hes seen from Wright in the first two days of the Bucs mandatory three-day minicamp that concludes Thursday.
Without getting into the particulars, it was a non-football related health (matter), Schiano told reporters after practice at One Buc Place. He was very good at communicating where he was and how he was dealing with it. The thing that excites me is that he did quite a bit yesterday, and he did more today.
Whatever the situation was, Wright seems to have put it behind him, expanding his participation in Wednesday drills. He made some plays out there today, Schiano added. Im excited.
Thats good news for a Bucs secondary with talent but in a state of transition. Rookie strong safety Mark Barron, the teams No. 1 draft pick, is expected to come in and make an immediate contribution, filling the void left by the departure of Tanard Jackson. And 16-year veteran star cornerback Ronde Barber has been working diligently at mastering the free safety position.
The status of troubled standout left cornerback Aqib Talib remains slightly clouded with his felony weapons trial approaching June 25 in Texas. But Talib has been a regular presence at practice, and you get the feeling that Bucs management expects him to be on the football field come September. If not, Barber is there to step into his old corner spot. And whatever scenario unfolds, Wright is poised to step into the remaining corner vacancy.
Coming off his four-interception season with the Lions matching his career high with Cleveland in 2009 the 5-10, 190-pounder says hes ready to show the Bucs they made a wise investment in him.
You know, its a big responsibility, he said. They obviously did their due diligence and did their research and figured out what they wanted to do. And they chose me, and Im appreciative of that. And I want to go out there and work as hard as possible to make right.
The Wright stuff has included 13 career interceptions, 63 passes defended and 323 tackles (292 solo) since the Browns selected him in the second round (53rd overall) out of Nevada-Las Vegas in the 2007 NFL draft.
Speaking to local media in March, Wright pointed to the talent and potential of the Bucs as a factor in his decision to sign with them. I think it was just a mixture of everything, he said. This is a situation where everybody wants to call it a building situation, but I think we have a great, young team here a team full of guys who are hungry. A team full of guys who are ready to take that next step and get to the playoffs and get to the Super Bowl and the upper echelon of this game.
Though he clearly has some catching up to do and has been practicing behind other corners lately, Wright says he feels good about how things are progressing.
I think its a little early, but at the same time were all here trying to pick up the defense and see where we all match and fit, he said. And that type of stuff will be defined later on down the road.
But theres one thing he knows already: He enjoys the attacking scheme of Schianos defense. Its a fun defense to play in, he said. Its a new situation for me, and Im just excited about the opportunity. Everybodys having a good time, trying to pick this thing up and get it going.
Schiano is well-known for his hands-on, detail-oriented approach to every aspect of the operation a style that has impressed Wright.
Hes taking us to where we need to go and hes pushing us to be better players and better men and more responsible, he said. And thats all you can really ask for a leader like that. Its been extremely positive.
Furthermore, Wright says he has no issue with Schianos back-to-basic drills and emphasis on fundamentals, which put seasoned veterans through rigorous paces alongside younger players fresh out of college.
I mean, you have to brush up on your fundamentals, Wright said. Theres no question about that. You have to have the fundamental base to go with the talent that you have. I think its something thats necessary, and we do it every day.
More than other teams hes played for? They do it, but not on a consistent basis, he replied. We do it daily here, and I think its a good thing.
For his part, Schiano has been just as impressed with Wright from what hes seen.
Hes got great body control, he said. Just watching him move, theres no wasted motion, which is critical for a defensive back especially a guy who moves inside, how fast things happen in there. Hes got that quick twitch.
While learning the new system, Wright has particularly enjoyed getting to work alongside the Iron Man icon of Tampa Bays secondary: Barber.
Rondes an excellent leader, he said. Hes somebody you can look up to (and) obviously somebody whos done a lot out here. So you want to pattern your game after. But being six years in, I have my own game. Were just trying to gel as a unit back there. Its a good group.
And one that Wright should make even better.
NOTES: Bucs defensive tackle Amobi Okoye is missing minicamp due to minor knee surgery he underwent Tuesday. But Okoye is expected to be healed in time for the start of training camp late next month. The Bucs are also going without defensive tackle Brian Price, excused for personal reasons following the death of his sister last month in California, and second-year standout DaQuan Bowers, out for the long haul with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Schiano spoke of Bowers earlier this week: "That's a huge loss. In sports, you move on and you fill in, but you can't overlook that. He was set to have a great year, I thought. And we're going to get him back I hope, but it's going to be later in the year, rather than earlier."