Wright has al­ready show­cased skill that at­tracted Carolina

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Football - BY JOURDAN RODRIGUE jro­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071; @jour­dan­ro­drigue

Carolina Pan­thers re­ceiver Jar­ius Wright can re­call the ex­act night he first stuck some­body.

Wright was a four-sport star ath­lete at War­ren High School in Ar­kan­sas. But base­ball, bas­ket­ball and track and field never gave him the thrill he felt as a de­fen­sive back when he wrapped up a re­ceiver.

“It was 10th grade, and I was ac­tu­ally play­ing de­fense at this time,” he said. “He had an out­route, it was cover-2, and I just sat out there and waited for him. It was my first big hit. It felt pretty good, so I can un­der­stand why guys want to play de­fense. They can get a chance to tee off on peo­ple ev­ery now and then.”

Af­ter he switched to re­ceiver, Wright missed the phys­i­cal­ity.

And to be hon­est, he was also a lit­tle ticked that peo­ple al­ways un­der­es­ti­mated him be­cause of his 5-foot-10 and 190pound stature.

So he brought a lit­tle back­bone into his game.

And now, he’s one of a few Pan­thers play­ers who on Thurs­day night against Buf­falo showed their tenac­ity while pick­ing up yards af­ter the catch (YAC).

With 3:04 left in the first quar­ter, Wright, lined up wide, cre­ated in­stant sep­a­ra­tion be­tween him­self and his cov­er­age. Quar­ter­back Cam New­ton found the win­dow with a 10-yard pass.

“He came up, he pressed me and I had a go-route,” said Wright. “Cam (New­ton) made a great throw, back shoul­der. And I just made the ad­just­ment to the ball.”

Wright then shed a de­fender for a pickup of 18 more yards af­ter the catch and was brought down at the 2-yard line. The play set up a touch­down by run­ning back Chris­tian Mc­Caf­frey.

As the Pan­thers’ of­fense be­comes more ef­fi­cient, putting play­mak­ers around New­ton who can cre­ate those ex­tra yards has been key.

Last sea­son, Mc­Caf­frey had 586 yards af­ter the catch, and re­ceiver Devin Funchess had 284, ac­cord­ing to ESPN Stats and Info. Both led the rest of the team by a wide mar­gin. Carolina wants more. So the Pan­thers drafted re­ceiver D.J. Moore in the first round, cit­ing his abil­ity to run af­ter the catch “like a run­ning back.”

Moore showed plenty of that abil­ity Thurs­day night, lead­ing the Pan­thers with four catches for 75 yards, with a 32-yard long. Twenty-seven of his to­tal yards were af­ter the catch.

New of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Norv Turner also uti­lized Mc­Caf­frey well on Thurs­day night, get­ting him into one-on-one matchups and putting him in po­si­tion to cre­ate space and ex­tra yards as a re­ceiver.

“We had guys that run well with the ball in their hands,” head coach Ron Rivera said af­ter Thurs­day’s 28-23 vic­tory. “And that’s one thing that we need to be able to do — get the ball in these play­mak­ers’ hands and let them make plays.”

Was Wright’s abil­ity to do so per­haps was a lit­tle bit of a sur­prise?

Not ac­cord­ing to Wright, who has the words “Hard Wright” tat­tooed on his shoul­der.

“I’ve al­ways been able to have a lot of YAC. ... I’m a coun­try boy, so I’m kind of tough al­ready,” he said. “You can’t let size judge you, or let any­one tell you you’re too small. That’s what I was told my whole life, but they don’t mea­sure your heart. And like I said, I’m a tough guy.

“And you know what? Some­times I am un­der­rated be­cause I am a smaller guy. But I can play with the best. ... And I’m a smart guy, so I know where to be.”

Wright, 28, was signed in free agency, from the Vik­ings, this spring. But over the last sev­eral days of train­ing camp, he has ap­peared to shift into a higher gear of chem­istry with New­ton. He was New­ton’s fa­vorite tar­get along­side tight end Greg Olsen in the days lead­ing up to the pre­sea­son opener.

“This has been one of my best camps that I’ve had in the NFL,” Wright said. “Get­ting a chance to play with these great guys, get­ting a chance to join this great re­ceiv­ing corps, we just push each other each and ev­ery day. I think it’s show­ing up on the field and off the field.”

In Min­nesota, where he was drafted in 2012 and spent the first six years of his ca­reer, Wright’s nick­name was “Mr. Third Down” be­cause of his clutch abil­ity in that sit­u­a­tion.

Forty-one per­cent of Wright’s 153 ca­reer catches have been on third down, for 955 yards (about 46 per­cent of his ca­reer to­tal 2,039 yards). He also av­er­aged 14.7 yards per third-down catch, his high­est av­er­age by down, with a 74 per­cent catch rate.

But it’s likely the Pan­thers will look to get Wright the ball and into space much more of­ten than just on third down.

Nat­u­rally, he wants to run with that.

“I’m work­ing on open­ing it up, be­ing more of an ev­ery-down guy,” he grinned. “I was just a third-down guy (in Min­nesota). But I’m work­ing on be­ing an ev­ery-down guy now.”

JEFF SINER [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Be­ing tough in the clutch on third down and the abil­ity to run af­ter the catch at­tracted Carolina to for­mer Vik­ings wide re­ceiver Jar­ius Wright, left. Wright put his run­ning abil­ity on dis­play in his first game with the Pan­thers.

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