He's found a comfort spot
Patriots’ Wright positioned for success
FOXBOROUGH — There were years when the week of roster cuts was one of uncertainty and doubt for Mike Wright. When he was undrafted out of Cincinnati six years ago, the Patriots defensive lineman didn’t expect much. When the cuts were finished and the roster finalized, Wright remained, but the welcome was hardly ceremonious.
“There’s no phone calls,’’ Wright said. “I always thought I’d get a phone call or an official, ‘You’re on the team.’ It was nothing. My stuff was still in the locker.’’
Now, in his sixth season, the impending trim of training camp excess has lost some of its weight. Wright has progressed from a fringe backup clamoring for a roster spot to a potential starter.
Asked about what young players in risk of being released are feeling this week, Wright tapped into the experience of his first training camp.
“They don’t know what the hell’s going on, to be honest with you,’’ Wright said. “Their heads are spinning.’’
It was 2005, and the Patriots were coming off their third Super Bowl title in four seasons. Coming into camp, Wright said he wanted to turn enough heads on special teams to sneak onto the practice squad. He did one better by making the roster and getting into 13 games on the defensive line.
He started a handful of games over the next few seasons, and with each year, watching players such as Richard Seymour and Ty Warren helped him gain a better understanding of the nuances of the game.
“It seems like every year I’ve gotten a little bit lower, a little bit better with my hands,’’ Wright said.
Last season, with Seymour’s departure and a few injuries along the line, Wright got his biggest opportunity and started nine games.
“I saw a big increase in playing time due to injuries and stuff like that, and I think it really helped my game,’’ Wright said. “This year, with the extra reps in training camp, I think it helped build my confidence.’’
With the experience he gained last year, Wright said he’s become comfortable in playing every position along the line. Bill Belichick said Wright’s versatility is part of the reason his career has grown.
“He’s a very versatile player,’’ Belichick said. “[He’s] athletic enough to do some of the more skilled things. Powerful enough to stand up against big guys or more than one guy.
“He’s got a good set of skills, and he’s worked hard. He’s very conscientious. He wants to do the right thing. He takes the time to learn and get it right.’’
Coming in as a player with a lot to prove, Wright said the willingness to learn and slide in wherever asked is part of being a member of the organization.
“I’m here to do whatever the coaches tell me to do,’’ Wright said. “If he wants me to play outside linebacker or cornerback, I’m going to do my best to do it.’’
Belichick also noted that Wright has established himself as a player who is dedicated to conditioning — including plenty of time in the weight room — in the offseason. Although Wright doesn’t have the size of a player such as Vince Wilfork, his strength allows him to slide over and play the nose tackle position at only 295 pounds.
“His weight room numbers, his test numbers are competitive with our line, but I’d probably say [with] most linemen,’’ Belichick said.
Said Wright: “I love to work out, and I take pride in keeping myself in shape. And it carries over to the football field. The stronger you are, the faster you are, the better you’re going to be.’’
Even younger players such as Jerod Mayo have noticed the work Wright puts in away from the field and how much it’s affected his on-field production.
“He’s a great player,’’ Mayo said. “Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve seen how he’s worked in the weight room. And that stuff’s starting to translate on the field. He’s doing an excellent job.’’
Belichick noted that Wright has become more versatile each season, but Wright made a point to say that with each season, it’s important to start anew in the expectations of how the coaching staff will use him.
“I think the roles are different every year, so you have to regroup every year and refocus yourself on what they’re asking you to do,’’ Wright said. “Nothing’s exactly the same, so you’ve got to be open-minded.’’
While this year’s role seems to be an expansion of what he saw last year, Wright said that no matter how long he plays, he’ll always envision himself as someone fighting for a spot.
“I always look at myself as on the bubble, whether I am or am not,’’ Wright said. “I play every down like it’s my last and try to make the team every day.’’
Robert Mays can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.