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Next man up: Gabe Wright (Part three)

Finishing our analysis of DT Gabe Wright's development from the 2015 season.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

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.
For the first article in this series, see Next man up: Gabe Wright (Part one)
For the second article in this series, see Next man up: Gabe Wright (Part two)

Feeling the Line Flow

It's been said of Wright that the "one thing that he needs to work on most is his on field awareness, as he does not read plays very well." At the time of the draft, James Brady of SB noted how Wright "occasionally gets lost during extended plays." Lions fans should be encouraged by the following examples of solid play diagnosis by Wright during the 2015 season.

2015 at SDO, 3Q (11:22). First-and-10 at the Detroit 16.

From a standard 11 personnel shotgun formation, the Chargers come to the line against a two-high nickel formation from the Lions. This is a good look to run against with six blockers against six defenders in the box, and 17 QB Philip Rivers hands off to 39 HB Danny Woodhead on a designed cutback. The blocking scheme has a pair of double-teams inside: 65 C Chris Watt pins 92 DT Haloti Ngata to 76 RG DJ Fluker, while 77 LT King Dunlap pins 90 DT Gabe Wright to 74 LG Orlando Franklin. After driving the DTs from the side to help the anchors Fluker and Franklin, the pin blockers release to the second level and attack the linebackers.

Ngata is walled off via great repositioning by Fluker, but Franklin doesn't rotate nearly as much on Wright. Slowing it down to look at the frames where the players make contact, we can see why. Fluker makes contact with Ngata's inside right shoulder using his own outside right shoulder (inside on outside). This allows him to slip to the inside of Ngata and replace the pin man Watt with a good angle pushing sideways. On the other hand, Wright explodes with his outside right shoulder into Franklin's outside left shoulder (outside on outside), preventing the anchor from sliding to take over King's pin angle. Franklin is flat-footed when King releases, leaving Wright with the advantage.

Wright feels the flow of the blocking and understands Dunlap is shoving him sideways for a reason. Exploiting his leverage on Franklin, Wright redirects against the blocking flow into the cutback lane and crushes Woodhead for a paltry one-yard gain.

Screen Pursuit

Plays specifically designed to trick defensive linemen should be among the toughest plays for a rookie to read correctly. It was a pleasant surprise to find Wright was seldom fooled by screen pass calls, quickly pulling up to provide back side pursuit.

2015 at MIN, 4Q (7:07). Third-and-goal at the Detroit 14.

There are two things to take note of in this play on the road against the Vikings. First, as soon as 61 C Joe Berger pushes past Wright and releases to set up for the screen, Wright is looking to 5 QB Teddy Bridgewater's eyes to locate 28 HB Adrian Peterson.

Turning almost immediately to start running down the HB screen, the sustained pursuit all the way across the field by our rookie is the second thing I want to point out. Gabe Wright doesn't give up on the play and on third down helps run down Adrian Peterson from behind. That is quality hustle.

2015 at GBY, 4Q (10:00). First-and-10 at the Green Bay 22

Here Green Bay is running a screen play to the left. 12 QB Aaron Rodgers takes the snap and fakes a look downfield before rolling left to feed the ball forward to 44 HB James Starks. The play is unsuccessful because 30 CB Josh Wilson comes on a corner blitz and rushes Rodgers into pitching instead of throwing the ball, but the Lions had this pretty well defended anyway.

Moving laterally down the line of scrimmage, 55 MLB Stephen Tulloch was out in front of the lead offensive lineman that had released: 71 LG Josh Sitton. If you watch Sitton from the start of the play, he is initially in front of Gabe Wright. When Sitton lets Wright through, however, Wright doesn't blindly charge forward. Instead, he stops and turns to pursue backside because he realizes that this signals a screen. Had Starks caught the ball, Wright was already moving into good position to spill Starks toward Tulloch.

Containing Russell Wilson

In Week 4 of the 2015 season, Russell Wilson kept plays alive long enough to exploit breakdowns in Detroit's coverage. Still a close game 13-3 late in the third quarter, Seattle had the ball and was driving toward field goal range. With Slay out of the game getting an injury looked at, the Lions seemed vulnerable to a deep shot down the field.

2015 at SEA, 3Q (4:00). First-and-10 at the 50 yard line.

Wilson is all-in for the long pass here with no short outlet or even a realistic run threat in the game behind him. The play Seattle ran was play action off outside zone with three vertical routes from 16 WR Tyler Lockett at the top of the image against 30 CB Josh Wilson, 15 Jermaine Kearse releasing outside at the bottom against 31 CB Rashean Mathis, and 89 WR Doug Baldwin down the seam (picked up by 27 FS Glover Quin). The running back in the game faking the outside zone is 40 FB Derrick Coleman. Not exactly the most fearsome run option on the Seattle roster, but probably a good pass protector to have in there.

Defensively, Teryl Austin sent in a call to help his backups: maximum deep Quarters (Cover-4) coverage with only a standard rush package of four down linemen. Both Wilson and Mathis ran vertical with their receivers and stayed in man-to-man as they continued deep. The play action sucked both 55 Stephen Tulloch in the middle and 28 CB Quandre Diggs (lined up over Baldwin) up to run support, but no routes attacked the second level: Seattle was settling for nothing less than a big strike while Slay was sidelined.

A timely call for deep coverage against deep routes leaves Wilson with nowhere to go with the ball. He does, however, have a potential escape route to his right. 52 DE Darryl Tapp has rushed far enough upfield that Wilson could cut it up behind Tapp. Here's where Wright makes a nice decision to play team defense to contain a great running quarterback.

As he recovers position from the play fake, Wright locates Wilson. Instead of flying to the ball, Wright slides back to cut off Wilson's option to use his legs to extend the play. This bottles everything up for his teammates to finish off -- Tapp caught Wilson from behind for a five-yard sack, and two plays later the Seahawks were forced to punt.

Almost There

Like Caraun Reid, Gabe Wright was drafted in the mid rounds by the Lions and was expected to take some time to adjust to the pro game. In October 2015 following the Seattle game, Justin Rogers from MLive wrote that "at this point, Wright's progression appears to mirror Caraun Reid's from a year ago." That seems to be a fair assessment, and the early signs look good (emphasis added):

Wright served as an adequate fill-in against Seattle. He didn't record any stats in the box score, but he also didn't make any glaring mistakes. That's about what you'd hope for from a fourth-round draft pick at that position.

I agree with that completely. Wright plays hard, has the tools to provide quality downs, and does well with the mental side of the game. His tendency to get tied up with blockers limited Wright's effectiveness, but more repetitions ought to improve how fast he can call up his full array of rush moves. I believe his willingness to do the work on these things make him worth watching when the Lions get to training camp in July:

"I was working on my pass rush moves, I’m trying to build off my run and being more physical in that area but I’m trying to work on pass rushing specifically,’’ Wright said. "I see myself as a quick athletic guy I can’t help this team unless I keep my pads down and work a move and ultimately be able to execute.’’

Although the position is now crowded and at least one defensive tackle will not make the final 53-man roster, I hope Gabe Wright gets a good look. In keeping with the parallel track to Caraun Reid's development path, moving from 130+ snaps as a rookie to rotational duty for 20-30 snaps each game in 2016 would be decent progress for Wright.