Cardinals linebacker Scooby Wright during a recent practice.
The Cardinals already have a Honey Badger, but watch long enough during OTAs, and you’ll swear they’ve added a Tasmanian Devil.
It’s easy for guys to coast in the dog days of the offseason, with no contact allowed and the temperature already approaching 90 degrees by the end of practice. But play after play, linebacker Scooby Wright looks like one of those eager Black Friday shoppers when the doors open, darting through traffic to secure his flat screen TV.
“Why not go hard?” Wright said. “Why not have fun? That’s why you play football.”
The motor has never been a question with Wright, but effort alone is not enough in the NFL. He had one of the finest individual seasons in college football history as a sophomore at the University of Arizona, but fell to the seventh round of the 2016 draft because of injuries and concerns about his ability to play in space.
Larry Foote coaches the inside linebackers for the Cardinals, and in the pre-draft process, was skeptical about Wright transitioning over from his role as a collegiate pass-rusher. At 6-feet and 240 pounds, Wright had to make the move to find a niche in the NFL.
“I had him wrong when he was coming out of Arizona,” Foote said. “I thought there was no way in the world he’d be able to get the hook, the drops (in pass coverage), stuff like that.”
Wright was drafted by the Browns and was on their practice squad in mid-December when the Cardinals signed him because of a season-ending ankle injury to money linebacker Deone Bucannon.
Wright used his motor to make an immediate impact on special teams, screaming down the field on kickoffs, but more importantly for his future, showed Foote he had the athleticism to play defense. After a 4.90-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting combine and other middling testing numbers, that seemed to be in doubt.
“I don’t really spend that much time with the 40, but I didn’t think he was loose enough to play,” Foote said. “But he’s the total opposite. Even last year when he came in and did individual drills, I was like, ‘Dang, man, I read you wrong.’ He’s an athletic guy who plays with a high motor. He’s putting it on tape, too. He’s getting a lot of people’s attention.”
Wright knows he’s not the speediest guy in the world. Haason Reddick, the Cardinals’ first-round pick last month, runs the 40-yard dash nearly four-tenths of a second faster, and he was the choice to take over first-team reps when Bucannon was shelved for the offseason due to ankle surgery.
But Wright is making his mark with his passion and mental progress.
“You can run a 4.5 and do all this, but if your eyes are right and say you run a 4.7 or whatever, you can play it faster than your 40 (would suggest),” Wright said. “I think any time you play your butt off and your eyes are right, there’s a little room for error. Even if you do mess up, it’ll cover up sometimes.”
Foote has seen the mental portion drag plenty of guys down, but believes Wright is headed down the correct path.
“I tell these guys all the time, it ain’t a physical game,” Foote said. “They spend millions of dollars in the scouting department to bring guys in here that are physically ready to go. So now you’re going to separate from a mental (standpoint). And he has that. And part of the motor is mental. Once he gets the Xs and Os down, he’s going to be a player in this league.”
It’s quite the reversal by Foote from just over a year ago.
But that’s the thing about the Tasmanian Devil. From afar, it looks like a small dog. The ferocity only becomes apparent with an up-close view.
“My eyes failed me,” Foote said. “He’s going to have a great chance to make the team.”
Images from the fourth OTA of the offseason