Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs' Wright returns after tumultuous season
Although he still has much to prove as a Buccaneer man, Eric Wright is already well established as an NFL survivor.
The fact Wright remains on Tampa Bay's roster after a tumultuous 2012 season illustrates the survival skills of a 27-year-old cornerback who was forced to apologize to teammates after returning from a four-game league suspension in December.
When Wright was eligible to dress for the season finale at Atlanta, Bucs coach Greg Schiano benched him, raising doubts about Wright's status in Tampa.
But here he is, working out with the rest of his teammates during steamy offseason practice sessions and vowing to show Tampa Bay fans why the Bucs coveted him as a free agent out of Detroit.
“I feel like I'm a pretty exceptional player,'' said Wright, a second-round pick by the Browns in 2007. “The world has yet to see that in its entirety. I need to do everything I can to make this team win.''
Before Wright was suspended for what he claimed was unauthorized use of the stimulant Adderall, he enjoyed some highlight moments in his sixth NFL season.
In a Week 2 loss at the Meadowlands, Wright put the Bucs ahead 24-13 just before halftime on a dazzling 60-yard interception return for a touchdown against Eli Manning of the Giants.
“That should have been the Play of the Year,'' Wright said of his only pick in 10 starts last season.
Wright's role is uncertain after the Bucs shuffled their beleaguered defensive backfield in the offseason.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis was acquired from the Jets, and All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson was signed from the 49ers as a free agent. Veteran Ronde Barber retired and Tampa Bay used its top draft pick to select corner Johnthan Banks in the second round.
Banks has been working with the No.1 unit at outside corner during offseason workouts, while Wright has often lined up in the slot.
Former Largo High standout Leonard Johnson is also in the mix at corner after picking off three passes as a rookie.
“(Wright) is doing some good things,'' Schiano said, “but it's all about the competition. We won't know until we get going. There's some guys that finished up the year and think it's their position. Eric thinks it's his position. I like the guys that are competing.''
The Bucs were 6-4 in Wright's starts last year, yet it was a humbling season.
Despite making all 16 starts for the 2011 Lions, who earned an NFC playoff berth, Wright was allowed to hit free agency. Tampa Bay pounced, offering a five-year, $35.8 million deal.
But two months ago, Wright accepted a restructured one-year contract that features a massive pay cut to $1.5 million.
“Obviously, it was disappointing,'' Wright said of his first season with the Bucs. “We didn't do what we set out to do as a team and, personally, I didn't do what I set out to do as a cornerback.''
Wright is committed to helping Tampa Bay end a five-year playoff drought.
“As long as I'm healthy and out here,'' he said, “there's no way I don't contribute on this team. It's just the type of competitor I am. I've been playing this game for six years, and I've been a starter for six years. That says something about the person I am, the player I am and where my mindset is at all times.''
The Bucs went 0-4 while Wright served his suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Reinstated after a frustrating month of watching his teammates falter, Wright figured he might have played his last game in pewter.
“Of course there was a lot of concern,'' he said. “But we were able to handle that on the business side and I'm happy to be out here. It obviously is a vote of confidence for them to give me an opportunity to stay. For that, I'm grateful.''
The Buccaneers signed former Temple standout Matt Brown on Thursday, beefing up their running back corps and deepening their return units.
An invitee to the team's recent rookie minicamp, the 5-foot-5 Brown ranked second in Temple history in all-purpose yards (5,272), third in rushing touchdowns (22) and fourth in 100-yard rushing games (10). Brown also led the Big East Conference last season with 143.4 all-purpose yards per game.
As a senior, Brown had 790 yards and a touchdown on 31 kick returns and 241 yards on 17 punt returns to earn Big East special teams player of the year. He set the Temple single-season record for punt return average (14.2 yards in 2012) and the single-game mark for kick return yards (227 vs. Louisville in 2012).
Brown also ranked third on the 2012 Owls squad with 372 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 60 carries.