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Next man up: Gabe Wright (Part one)

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Checking on DT Gabe Wright's development from the 2015 season.

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Next man up is a series of articles examining players further down the depth chart, particularly young players being developed for larger roles.

This time, we are looking at defensive tackle Gabe Wright.

Draft Flashback

Among draft experts and profiles, there was virtually unanimous agreement that Gabe Wright possessed an explosive first step and was characterized as a penetrator. Almost as common, unfortunately, were questions surrounding his lack of production stat-wise and inconsistent play at Auburn. The early take on Wright was that he had pass rushing potential, but could be a liability against the run.

CBS Sports:

The first-round selections of "undersized" defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Dominique Easley a year ago provided evidence of the NFL's appreciation for penetrating defensive tackles who can affect the quarterback. Wright isn't quite as athletic or as productive as Donald or Easley, but his initial quickness and tenacity could help him generate similar buzz

At times he is so consumed with rushing upfield that he loses sight of the ball. Has to do a better job of redirecting his charge, as Wright shows some stiffness when changing directions and doesn't make as many plays in pursuit as he should given his athleticism. Can be overwhelmed by mass at the point of attack. Needs to get stronger with his hands to break free from run blockers.

NFL.com Draft Profile:

Uses counter moves as a pass rusher, including a decent spin move. Shows signs of being able to read and react rather than just penetrate.

Must improve at disengaging and locating running back. Displays inconsistent secondary motor when asked to pursue plays beyond the line of scrimmage. Will run himself out of plays.

NFLDraftScout.com:

He possesses one of the most explosive first-steps of any defensive tackle in this draft, consistently splitting gaps to wreak havoc in the middle and playing with admirable intensity. With a massive defender like Ngata taking up multiple blockers and quarterbacks throwing the ball much more often in the pass-happy NFC North than the relatively ball-control SEC, don't be surprised if Wright proves his doubters wrong.

Marlowe Alter for the Detroit Free Press:

If you watch Wright's Auburn tape, you'll notice that he was unable to consistently shed blocks, especially when he was initially stonewalled. There were multiple times when Wright had a step on his man, but then was unable to toss him aside and finish the play.

The things we wanted to see out of Wright in 2015 was that he still had the explosiveness that came and went and came back again at the Senior Bowl, that he had improved his awareness of what's going on around him in the run game and from double teams and finally that he had developed moves to either shed blocks or avoid them entirely. As noted in Jeremy's 2015 review of the defensive tackles on the roster, Wright was inactive for nine of the last ten games of the season. Thus, much of what we will look at comes from the first half of the season (and some preseason).

Burst Off the Line

Kicking off our review of Gabe Wright will be the biggest positive, which is his fit in the system as a one-gap penetrator. In situations where Wright is not being double-teamed and can take an angle to whoever had the ball, he has the capability of blowing by his blocker.

2015 at GBY, 1Q (1:04). Second-and-4 at the Green Bay 27.

Green Bay initially takes the field with four wide receivers (89 WR James Jones, 17 WR Davante Adams, 18 WR Randall Cobb and 84 WR Jared Abbrederis) plus 80 TE Justin Perillo and shows an Empty Gun starting alignment. 12 QB Aaron Rodgers then motions 18 WR Randall Cobb from wide left (Adams switches and widens from the slot to replace him on the edge) into the backfield as a running back. The play Rodgers checks to is weak power with Cobb as the runner behind a lead pulling block by 70 RG TJ Lang.

Defensively, Detroit has two high safeties (42 S Isa Abdul-Quddus and 27 FS Glover Quin) and three corners (23 CB Darius Slay, 24 CB Nevin Lawson, and 30 CB Josh Wilson) on the field. Wilson in the slot comes on a no-hesitation corner blitz from Rodgers' right. This is basic Cover-1 with man coverage across the board (IAQ replacing Wilson on Abbrederis in the slot) and Quin in high centerfield.

The double high disguise with only six defenders near the tackle box is what Rodgers' audible is adjusting to, and it is a great move. Green Bay has six blockers for six Detroit players near the line.

59 OLB Tahir Whitehead is pulled outside by Perillo releasing to the flat, but otherwise all the Packers need to do is block everyone and get a nice run to the weak side. They make all of these blocks except one: Wright launches off the line so fast that 63 C Corey Linsley is unable to replace the pulling guard Lang in time. Wright is around Linsley and into the backfield so fast that he catches Cobb for a 3-yard loss, setting Detroit up with a much better third down situation. The next play was the Caraun Reid sack we looked at previously.

2015 DEN, 3Q (9:32). First-and-10 at the Detroit 48.

Now we come to an outstanding example of how Wright can split gaps even against zone blocking. This is the kind of stuff that made draft pundits call him a good fit for Teryl Austin's scheme. Wright not only beats his man to penetrate into the backfield, he somehow manages to take out a second pulling blocker while being held.

Denver lines up in the Pistol with 22 HB CJ Anderson as the single back behind 18 QB Peyton Manning. The play-call here is split zone right, with 81 TE Owen Daniels scraping across the zone blocking offensive line to slice block on the back side. Wright (boxed in yellow) is the responsibility of LT 74 Ty Sambrailo.

At the snap, Sambrailo is completely beaten by Wright's acceleration. This happens so fast that Sambrailo cannot even make a desperation cut block to prevent pursuit from behind. Instead, the half-dive ends up colliding with Wright's back shoulder as he runs by, sending both men tumbling to the ground. At the very end of the GIF, you can see Referee Jeff Triplette throwing his penalty flag for the tackle.

How rapidly did Wright get upfield? He's in Denver's back yard so fast that his angle actually cuts off Daniels' scrape across the formation. Daniels isn't even looking to make a block yet -- he's still trying to run into position to set up to block. Had there been no hold, this is probably a tackle for loss of maybe three yards. Either way, aggressive penetration by Wright here results in a nice negative play for the opponent.

2015 at MIN, 4Q (11:30). Second-and-11 at the Minnesota 40.

Minnesota goes with run action here, with 5 QB Teddy Bridgewater faking a handoff to 28 HB Adrian Peterson on a simulated Power O to the right. As with the previous play against Denver, 63 RG Brandon Fusco pulls and must be replaced by 61 C Joe Berger in the blocking scheme against Wright. Attacking up the field hard, Wright tears through the gap before Peterson even makes it to the mesh point:

Once again, we see that Wright's quickness off the ball is everything it was advertised to be. In fact, from the tackle box angle on the All-22, you can see Wright shoots the gap, makes the play on Peterson in case Teddy hands off, and then still peels off fast enough to totally disrupt Teddy.

Next Time: Block Shedding

The nice thing about Wright's burst is that it totally supports the attacking style that Austin wants up front. Opposing offenses pull the guard in front of Wright at their own peril -- he will beat the replacer through the hole regularly and blow up plays when permitted to come off the line clean.

But therein lies the problem with Gabe Wright: like a slot receiver who has to play off the line to keep clean from press coverage, Wright only looks phenomenal when he can take his first steps without interference. Everyone was right about his explosiveness, but everyone was also right about him needing to improve on disengaging/breaking free from blocks. Next time, we'll curb the enthusiasm by looking at how he fared in situations where he had to overcome an initial blocker to get to the quarterback or running back.