Wallace Proving to be the Wright Option on Special Teams
With each spiraling kick, Wallace Wright zooms down the sidelines like a man on a mission. At a relentless pace, he zeroes in on his one target, the ball carrier. Evading blockers, Wright approaches the ball and delivers a bone-jarring hit. Mission accomplished. Wright picks himself up off the turf and jogs over to the sidelines where he awaits round two. Such is life in the NFL as a gunner.
Rather than deliver acrobatic catches and game-breaking runs as a wide receiver, Wright (6-foot-1, 191 pounds) has traded the NFL’s glamour position for its most unheralded, special teams. Wright saw action last year as a wide receiver, catching six passes for 87 years, but he has discovered his success in the same way it all began; as an “underdog.”
After walking-on to the football team at the University of North Carolina in 2002 as a true-freshman, Wright was named the starting kickoff returner and returned 29 kicks for 624 yards. His success earned him a scholarship following his sophomore season. After his collegiate days were behind him, he attended Jets rookie mini-camp in 2006 as a tryout player and earned a contract.
Wright is now where he wants to be; succeeding on special teams in the NFL. After recording 16 special teams tackles last season, (third on the Jets) he made three key special teams tackles in last Saturday’s preseason loss to the Washington Redskins. What is his secret to success?
“There’s no secret. I just feel like I go out there and I want it more than my opponents. I go out there with the mentality that I’m not going to get beat and I’ll take that over everything else,” Wright said. “It’s just effort, really. Just wanting to go down there and make a play. That’s basically it.”
Although Wright has found success on the special teams unit, his desire to play wide receiver is not hidden. However, with a roster featuring stars such as Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery, the opportunity to catch passes remains slim. But Wright knows, why wait on the sidelines when he can make an impact on special teams?
"I'm a young guy, why wait your opportunity? Jerricho and [Coles], they weren't always starting receivers either, but they worked their way up on special teams and they were young players and when they got their opportunity they made the best of it," Wright said.
The desire to be a wide reciever is a motive he balances well.
“It’s a little difficult. Everybody wants to be the starting receiver or the starting running back. I’m in that same area, too. I’m fighting for a receiver’s position. Bottom line is if you’re not the starter, everybody has their own role,” Wright said. “If you’re not the starter, you have to play special teams. As of right now, that’s my role.”
Wright has gladly accepted that role and others have already begun to notice. Mangini named Wright, along with Smith as special teams co-captains for last Saturday’s game against Washington.
“I take pride in doing anything,” Wright explained. “I try to go out there and do whatever coach [Mangini] asks me to do. Whether it be a reserve role at receiver just in case somebody goes down or playing special teams."
Although Wright usually never receives an opportunity to catch game-deciding touchdowns, his role as a gunner is anything but boring.
“I think it’s fun. How many receivers do you know in the NFL that like to hit, be physical and play special teams? I just try to be the best special teams player on the field,” Wright said.
With training camp now officially closed to the public, today’s viewing access for practice was limited to 45 minutes to the media. After opening with stretching and calisthenics, the Jets moved into unit drills. The quarterbacks threw to lone wide receivers, while the defensive backs practiced their catching abilities as they were thrown several passes at short range. As the quarterbacks threw, Brett Favre spent time in the secondary. No, Mangini is not planning on handing Favre a new role, the quarterback was just was standing around, chatting with the receivers after each successive catch.
Following the unit drills, the quarterbacks moved to the lower field, while the special teams unit practiced kickoff and punt coverage. Ahmad Carroll, Cotchery, Justin Miller, Darrelle Revis, Chansi Stuckey and Leon Washington all split time returning kicks.
Although the practice was a relatively short sample, quarterback Erik Ainge continued to struggle with his throws. The offense moved into drills within the red-area, but Ainge was unable to hit his targets on a consistent basis. His second throw sailed over wide receiver David Ball’s head and hit a car in the parking lot adjacent to the field.
Jets Express Condolensces for Upshaw
Late Wednesday night, NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. Upshaw, 63, first became executive director of the players’ association in 1983, shortly after he ended his 15-year playing career where he starred on the Oakland Raiders offensive line. During his 15 seasons (1967-1981) Upshaw was selected to the Pro Bowl seven times and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
Mangini expressed his condolences during his morning press conference.
“The contribution that he made as a player and then his work with the union has just been really incredible, just an incredible body of work. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them,” Mangini said.
Upshaw was diagnosed with the illness last Sunday and his passing came as a shock to players.
“People are still in shock,” fullback Tony Richardson said, who is vice president of the players’ association. “We haven’t had a chance to speak to anyone from the league yet or our union office. We’re definitely going to miss Gene because he was a tremendous leader for our organization.”
Guard Brandon Moore, who is the Jets player representative, knows Upshaw will be “remembered greatly by the players in the NFL.”
“His services to the league for five decades won’t be questioned. His services to the players won’t be questioned. I think he’ll be remembered as a guy that had the best interest of the players," Moore said.
Coles, Ellis Closer to Return
After missing a portion of training camp and both preseason games because of injury, both Coles (leg) and defensive end Shaun Ellis (hand) were again limited in drills. While the two injured starters are progressing physically, whether each plays Saturday against the Giants remains uncertain.
Mangini discussed Coles’ playing status during his morning press conference, explaining that the team has "a whole process in place in terms of bringing guys back, and [Coles] has got to get through those steps before it’s back full-time in practice and then full-time in games.
As for both Coles and Ellis, Mangini remains cautious about not speeding up the return date.
“With all those guys, you just don’t want to bring them back too soon and then an injury that could be a week or two turns into four, five, six, something like that,” he said.
Trashing Talking Non-Existent
With the annual "Battle of the Meadowlands" looming, has any trash talking started between the two teams? "No,[the Giants] are a real humble group," Ellis said. Instead, the defending super bowl champions are well-respected.
"They have a lot of great players out there. They're a great team. What they acheived is the ultimate goal. I think they'll do it just like every other team (post Super Bowl winners), try to get it again this year. They're trying to repeat. My hat's off to them. I wish them the best of luck," Ellis said.
Playing Time for Starters Saturday?
With Saturday’s game against the Giants looming, Mangini is still unsure as to how long the Jets starters will play.
“It’s really going to depend on how many plays we have offensively, how long [the Giants'] first group is in. So it’s really hard to say at this point,” Mangini said.
Although the starters usually receive additional playing time during the third preseason game, the Jets' head coach noted that this year is "a little bit different," meaning that the exit for the starting unit could come at any time Saturday.
As for next Thursday at Philadelphia, the Jets' final preseason tune-up before the Sept. 7 opener in Miami, Favre's playing time will depend on how he performs against the Giants Saturday.
Lowery Making a Push
Rookie cornerback Dwight Lowery's strong play during both preseason games and practice has certainly stood out. Mangini is now considering playing Lowery with the starters Saturday.
"I think he definitely has a chance," said Mangini. "We've put him in with the ones in games and in practice. He's done a nice job. As long as he continues to do a nice job, it's definitely not a closed situation."
Linebacker Jason Trusnik (leg) remains on the PUP List and did not practice. His lower left leg remains in a cast.