A lot's been left up to Wright

By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / December 27, 2008
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FOXBOROUGH - Ty Warren approached the New England Patriots coaching staff earlier this season, when he realized how extreme the pain of playing through his groin injury would be. The injury chipped away at his explosiveness, and he could not rush the passer with his usual speed. Warren told the coaches he would be more effective on running downs.

"I had no problem going to the coaching staff," Warren said. "I swallowed my pride and said, 'Hey, put Mike in.' "

Warren felt confident in Mike Wright, the versatile defensive lineman who would be temporarily replacing him. Wright has emerged in his fourth season as Warren has been diminished with a groin injury that will require surgery after the season.

Wright, though not as destructive as Warren, has been a stopgap at both end spots, helping ease the absence of Warren in the three games he's been inactive while also subbing at various points on third downs for Richard Seymour. Wright also regularly plays nose tackle on passing downs and contributes on special teams.

"It's been good to have Mike this year," coach Bill Belichick said. "He's kind of gotten better and better as the year has gone along. He's helped us on all three downs at all three spots. Mike works hard. He's a strong guy, very physical player, plays with a lot of power."

Wright's value may become more apparent if Seymour's back injury prevents him from playing tomorrow in Buffalo. Seymour missed practice for the third straight day yesterday and is questionable for the Bills game.

So Wright, who signed with New England as an undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati in 2003, might receive a chance to build on what he considers his best game as a Patriot. Wright recorded a career-best four quarterback hits Sunday and combined with Seymour for a sack of Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner in the first quarter.

On the sack, he found himself one-on-one and ripped through his man's block, punching his fist under the offensive lineman's armpit to shove him into the backfield. Wright saw Warner standing only a few steps behind the line of scrimmage and pounced. As Wright dragged him down, Seymour piled on.

"I wish I could have had the whole sack," Wright said with a laugh. "Sey jumped in there a little late. It's cool."

Wright can enjoy himself now, finally healthy after what he endured last season. Wright missed seven games and was placed on injured reserve before undergoing offseason foot surgery.

"It's been a really long road with that," Wright said, sitting at his locker and drinking a protein shake. "I'm taking care of myself more than I ever have. I've never felt better than I do now."

A specialist stretches Wright's muscles each day, giving him more flexibility. He is more aware of and attentive to small injures when they flare up. He sits in a cold tub after practice, making his legs feel fresher. Wright uses the measures to prevent another season like last year.

"Last year was tough," he said. "It was a struggle. Everyone is going to have a season like that, but you know, I didn't take care of myself as well as I could have. That was the result. I learned my lesson.

"I didn't do anything. I did practice and left. I didn't really focus on my strength, and that goes away quicker than you think. Really just a whole lot of doing nothing. I didn't think it would result in that outcome. But, like I said, I learned my lesson."

Wright has been rewarded with more playing time this season - after which he becomes a free agent - than any other in his career, including time on special teams. Wright has played on protection teams and on kick return, during which he sometimes occupies a spot on the three-man wedge.

The wedge creates some of the most violent collisions in football. He holds hands with teammates and tries to plow ahead for the returner. Players covering the kick are assigned to wallop Wright, busting the wedge and allowing others to make the tackle.

"It's guys trying to come and kill you," Wright said. "You've got to be ready for anything."

Which could also explain Wright's defensive role. He plays all three positions along the line; he feels most comfortable at nose guard, because he played defensive tackle at Cincinnati. "Once you've done something for so long," Wright said, "it kind of doesn't leave you."

Wright played mostly nose tackle as a rookie but practiced at end occasionally. He never assumed he would become such a versatile player, but a willingness to adapt to different roles, along with his special teams ability, won him a place on the team.

He picked up end quickly. In the Patriots' 3-4 scheme, all the linemen are responsible for two gaps apiece, making end similar to nose. Ends have more responsibility to contain outside runs, but Wright prepares the same for both positions.

"It's really all the same," Wright said. "It's just a great opportunity to get in there and show what I can do. Anything is possible. You just got to be ready."

Adam Kilgore can be reached at

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