Film review: Wright an athletic pass-catcher

Film review: Wright an athletic pass-catcher
August 27, 2014, 4:30 pm
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We know all the numbers on new Patriots tight end Tim Wright.

He’s 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. He caught 54 passes last year for 571 yards and five touchdowns as an undrafted rookie, one of the lone shining lights in Tampa Bay’s generally lackluster offense. He spent five years at Rutgers, four of those under the man who coached him with the Buccaneers: Greg Schiano.

But how does he play? In what ways did Tampa Bay use him last season?

To get an idea, I watched every snap Wright played in the final three games of the 2013 regular season. Admittedly, that’s an arbitrary number, but I thought it would provide a good sample size of his work. And because he changed positions last preseason -- moving from receiver, where he spent his college career, to tight end -- I thought collecting data from the end of the season would give us the best idea of the kind of player he is. By then, he should have had a pretty good grasp on his new role and how to play it.

Before getting into a few plays that I thought highlighted his abilities, more numbers. Quickly. Promise.

In three games -- against the 49ers, Rams and Saints -- Wright played 155 offensive snaps. Nearly 57 percent of those were played in the slot. About 40 percent came as an in-line tight end. He lined up as a fullback six times, twice in shotgun formations in two-back sets alongside quarterback Mike Glennon. I noted two snaps when Wright played out wide, near the numbers. He took one handoff on a reverse for two yards after lining up in a three-point stance on the line of scrimmage.

By the end of the season, Schiano clearly trusted Wright enough to line him up just about anywhere on the field as an H-back. While he was asked to perform a variety of functions, he's obviously stronger in some areas than others.

When I watched him move, it was clear he has a receiving background because of how well he ran his routes. He used his body well, effectively got off of most jams, and set up his cuts like a player who has spent time honing those skills. Though his hands were questioned by Bucs coach Lovie Smith earlier this summer, Wright proved to have reliable mitts in the snaps I saw. Of the 25 targets thrown to him in those three games, one could be qualified as a drop, and even that pass appeared to be a poorly-thrown ball.

As much as Wright’s history as a receiver showed up in a positive way in the passing game, it seemed to work against him as a blocker in the running game. Tampa Bay almost always ran to the opposite side of the field when Wright was asked to block. Even then, his assignments -- often very good edge players like San Francisco’s Aldon Smith, St. Louis’ Chris Long and New Orleans’ Cam Jordan, it should be noted -- had their way with him. He is a very willing blocker. There was not a play in which it appeared he gave poor effort. But his lack of bulk and inexperience hurt him in that facet. Plenty of room for improvement there.

Here are a few plays that caught my eye as I watched the tape.

For a quick snapshot of Wright's athleticism, his one-yard touchdown catch against the Saints was impressive. With Wright lined up on the goal line as a traditional tight end at the right side of the formation, it looks as though the Buccaneers are ready to run it in. 

Glennon fakes a handoff to running back Bobby Rainey as Wright gets into his route unencumbered. Matched up against linebacker Curtis Lofton, Wright takes a step to the inside to setup his fade to the back right corner of the end zone.

Wright gets more than enough separation to give Glennon a relatively easy throw. The quarterback knows his tight end has the size advantage and he he lofts one up like a basketball alley-oop for Wright to slam home. Wright gets off his feet and and stretches to get the ball at it's highest point for an easy score. 

For a play that illuminates Wright's downfield ability a little bit better, take his 24-yard catch against the Saints in the third quarter of Week 17. Lined up in the slot on the right side of the Tampa Bay formation, he runs a seam route that he bends outside slightly to help him find a soft spot behind safety Roman Harper (lined up six yards off the line of scrimmage) and in front of safety Rafael Bush (not pictured). 

Glennon makes a very accurate throw into a tight window in the middle of the field, and Wright makes the catch. Showing some good football instincts, Wright protects himself and the football from a big hit from Bush by going down to the ground quickly. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has said in the past it's important for receivers going over the middle to live to see the next play, and that's exactly what Wright does here. He still takes a thud, but he remains in the game. 

It was interesting to find Wright lined up from time to time in the backfield, putting some of his versatility on display. Here he lines up next to Glennon in the shotgun on Glennon's left, apparently there to give Glennon some extra protection on a third-and-nine play.

Glennon motions Wright to the slot on the left side of the line, getting Wright closer to the line of scrimmage and allowing him to either serve as a blocker from that spot or break into a route. 

When the Rams bring the house on a blitz from Glennon's left, Wright knows he is the hot read and turns in time to make the grab. Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis makes a good play to tackle Wright a yard short of the first down. 

Wright's work as a blocker is less impressive. In the last three games of last season, it did not appear as though he plain missed an assignment because of a mental error. He was always in the right spot, it seemed. But even then, he was powerless at times to stop defenders.

In this play against the 49ers, he has the difficult job of slowing down Smith. The play is run away from Wright toward the right side of the formation, and when Smith sees that, he lets up on his pursuit, giving Wright good position.

But as soon as Rainey cuts back to the left side, Smith simply walks Wright back into the play and makes the tackle for a short gain.

Wright shows some improvement just one week later, though. On a very similar play -- with Rainey starting right and cutting back to the left toward Wright's block on the outside -- Wright holds his ground against Long and gives Rainey a running lane. Long helped Wright's cause here by getting too far up the field, but it's still a win for Wright. 

The last play we'll illustrate here is another block, but this time out of the backfield as a fullback. 

Wright actually motions from the slot into the backfield before Glennon hands off to Brian Leonard. As was often the case when Wright blocked on the line of scrimmage, he blocks away from the run, kicking out Jordan to make sure Jordan doesn't make the play from the back-side.

Wright moves quickly out of his stance and has good burst in his first few steps, hitting Jordan with enough force that Jordan would not make any significant pursuit toward the ball carrier. Again, Wright shows that he's willing to play with very good effort. But again, his technique is lacking. He loses his footing soon after impact and ends up face down on the turf.

After reviewing footage from these three games, it's pretty evident that the Patriots have acquired a solid pass-catching tight end with some positional versatility. While, as expected, his game needs polishing, he shows consistent effort that should help him improve as he continues to gain experience at a new position.