Bears expecting Major contributions from fast-learning safety Wright
By JUSTIN ALBERS firstname.lastname@example.org
August 3, 2011 9:12PM
Bears safety Major Wright (27), a third-round pick from Florida in 2010, will start this season. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images
Updated: August 3, 2011 11:01PM
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Major Wright should have had an interception. At the very least, he should have knocked the ball down.
But the second-year Bears safety relaxed for one second early in practice Tuesday afternoon, and wide receiver Earl Bennett made the catch in front of him.
‘‘He’s still learning a little bit,’’ safety Chris Harris said.
Wright showed he’s learning quickly. Later in practice, he reacted faster on a similar play and did what he should have done the first time — he picked it off. He took Jay Cutler’s pass and sprinted down the sideline — though nobody chased him — flipping into the end zone as the assembled fans cheered his name.
Fans undoubtedly hope to see much more of the latter scenario this season now that he’s penciled in to start opposite the veteran Harris in the secondary. The Bears let productive veteran Danieal Manning walk after he rejected a three-year deal last season. Manning signed with the Houston Texans.
‘‘A lot of picks this year from me,’’ Wright said. ‘‘With me just staying healthy and staying coachable, I can do that. . . . There’s no pressure because I come out in practice and I get better every day. When it is game time, I’m going to be prepared.’’
Without Manning, who also shined in kick-return duties during his five years with the Bears, Wright will see a lot more snaps than he did during his rookie season. And he’ll have to stay healthy, which he struggled to do in 2010. He missed the final three preseason games with a fractured thumb, then sat out several regular-season games with a hamstring injury.
‘‘I’m healthy and I’m ready to go,’’ he said. ‘‘I think that’s all behind me. All I can tell you is I’m going out there and putting my best foot forward. That’s all I can do at this point.’’
Wright, the Bears’ third-round pick in 2010, made 24 tackles last season and eight in the postseason. He was especially impressive in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers with a season-high six solo tackles.
Despite Wright’s injury history and his lack of starting experience, his teammates expect him to thrive.
‘‘Absolutely, he’s ready,” Harris said. ‘‘I feel like he will make a huge contribution this year. He showed glimpses of what he can do last year. I know he got hampered with injuries and whatnot, and that kind of hindered his development, but I think Major is going to make huge strides this season.’’
Wright worked out with Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry during the offseason and feels he’s in better shape now than he was at any point last season. Berry was the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft.
‘‘This offseason, I went at it,’’ Wright said. “With [Berry] being the No. 1 safety in my class, he pushed me.’’
Harris said Wright had a pretty good idea he would get the starting job before the lockout began, so the missed organized team activities won’t hurt him much.
‘‘I think he’ll be fine,” said Harris, who had five interceptions last season. ‘‘He knows the system; he knows what’s going on. . . . He came in [to camp] prepared to be the starter.’’
It will be difficult for Wright to fill the void left by Manning, who had 72 tackles, seven pass breakups and an interception last season.
‘‘Everybody just does their job, and Major is great at that,’’ defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said. ‘‘He knows what his role is, and he plays his role. He doesn’t have to be anybody he’s not. He’ll do a great job.’’
Wright will do his best to replace Manning’s defensive production, but he won’t even try to put up his numbers in the return game.
‘‘I don’t return kicks, man,’’ Wright said, smiling. ‘‘That’s not me.’’