INDIANAPOLIS -- Kyle Wright plans on taking advantage of his latest opportunity. Even if it wasn't expected.
Wright is one of 20 quarterbacks at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine, subjecting himself to medical exams, media interviews, psychological testing, team interviews and finally football drills as NFL teams get an up-close-and-personal look at the 300-plus NFL hopefuls. It's the first step towards what they all hope will be an NFL career, a halfway point between the end of their college careers and the league's annual draft in April.
|Ben Liebenberg / NFL.com|
|Kyle Wright walks off the field at the RCA Dome.|
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» Wright keen on opportunity
His world is now here, for these six days, in this Midwestern city turned mecca of football where the eyes, ears and experience of representatives from every NFL team will be formulating opinions and cementing suspicions that will go a long way in determining the future of their franchises.
"This is everybody's time to shine. So you have to be on point," he says, staring out onto the field of a nearly empty RCA Dome where punters and kickers are lofting footballs toward the Teflon roof.
Wright's invitation to the combine comes with an asterisk. He was offered an invitation to the combine as one of three "throwing quarterbacks," a designation which sets Wright and his two counterparts -- San Jose State's Adam Tafralis and Bernard Morris of Marshall -- apart from the other signal callers.
As a throwing quarterback, Wright will spend six full days at the combine instead of the usual four. In addition to working through the testing that all combine participants take part in, Wright has the added duties of taking part in various position drills throughout the duration of the combine, wherever there is a need for a quarterback or someone to throw the ball. It may mean catching snaps for long-snappers, throwing interceptions during a defensive backs drill or the mundane chore of handing off.
It isn't the stuff of first-round draft picks or franchise-saving quarterbacks. Not exactly glamorous. It's an open gig, and someone has to do it.
"I didn't even know anything about it," admits Wright. "I didn't even know that they had throwing quarterbacks. So it was just a different opportunity."
Still, the opportunity has its positives. One is that the rigors of the combine are spread out an extra two days, meaning less cramming and more preparation for Wright. The other is the amount of exposure the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Wright will get in front of every NFL eyeball imaginable.
For a prospect who doesn't have any guarantees in his pocket, it doesn't have much of a downside.
"The only negative is you have to stay in Indianapolis for a couple of extra days, but I didn't mind," the Bay-area California native said in a half-joking sort of tone, as the February temperatures outside linger in the mid-20s.
The reality of Wright's status as a throwing quarterback is that he likely isn't rated in the top half of the quarterbacks at the combine. Nevertheless, his ticket to the combine was punched, and he plans on making the most of it.
In his eyes, it's an opportunity. An advantage, even.
"With getting a lot more exposure than any of the other quarterbacks, I just want to go out and open as many eyes and turn as many heads as possible," assesses Wright. "Run and test well, and then transfer that over to being efficient while throwing routes and throw the ball accurately."
Wright doesn't hide the fact that he's here to work, performing with the expectation of that he will be drafted. Not unlike some of the others around him, his football career to this point has been full of twists and turns.
As one of the nation's most heavily recruited high school players in 2003 and widely regarded as the top prep quarterback, Wright attended the Elite 11 Quarterback Camp with the likes of Dennis Dixon, Chris Leak, JaMarcus Russell and Andre Woodson. He chose to attend the University of Miami over schools such as Florida State, USC and Tennessee, already anointed as next in line at "Quarterback U."
His career as a Hurricane didn't turn out in the fairy tale sort of way that one might expect. After redshirting as a freshman, he played sparingly his sophomore season before an ankle injury and an allergic reaction to a bee sting ended his season. In his first season as a starter in 2005, he started all 12 games and led the ACC with 18 touchdowns and earned Honorable Mention All-ACC honors.
With high expectations to start 2006, Wright guided a Hurricanes squad with a new offensive line and young receivers through a subpar season, going 5-4 as the starter before a broken thumb ended his season. He lost out on the quarterback competition entering his senior season, but regained his starting spot and threw for 1,747 yards with 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Wright doesn't hide his disappointment when looking back on his career at Miami after entering college as a highly rated player. The irony of now having to fight to make it to the next level isn't lost on him.
But as he takes a step back to digest the experience now that it's over, he's quick to take something away from it.
"I think the past two years at Miami were tough," Wright said. "We didn't accomplish everything that we set out to. That's something at Miami that sets us apart is that we realistically have national championship expectations. To not do that during my tenure there made me even hungrier, for once I get an opportunity at the next level, to really come in and work as hard as I can to earn a spot and eventually be a starter."
That process begins here, waiting on the sidelines to find out where he is needed next. The combine that holds this opportunity for Wright also affords him quite a bit of time to wait and think. He's even-keeled in a take-things-as-they-come sort of way, thankful for the opportunity but determined to make something of it.
One of the keys of the combine is to display the ability to perform under pressure in the window of time provided, however small. As Wright lays on the artificial turf on the sideline in a baggy combine-marked sweatshirt, sweats and a black stocking cap, he astutely points out the ability to do both is the trademark of a quality quarterback.
"I think when you really start thinking too much is when you get in trouble," he opines. "So I'm just going to go out and have fun and do what I do. Just concentrate on being accurate and efficient and putting the ball where the receivers can get it."
Outside of the medical testing, team personnel put the most emphasis on getting to know the character of the prospects, their first exposure to some of the players. The one-on-one interviews are crucial, a chance to show teams a player's make-up. Wright took tips from friends and former teammates who have been through the process before, but is careful not to worry too much about things he can't control.
That's where this opportunity comes into play. Wright will be getting as much exposure to the NFL decision makers as anyone at the combine, a chance to display both his skills and his personality. He'll get time with coaches, throws -- lots and lots of them -- and yet another chance to work on his fundamentals before he flies to the Miami the day after the combine ends for his pro workout day on Feb. 29.
Wright is keenly aware. He's in the door, regardless of what it took, and is taking his opportunity in stride. Like a quarterback.
"I don't think it's stressful at all," Wright said. "There are some long days. This is what every guy who is here has wanted to do since they were little kids is to play professional football. For everybody to get their opportunity is definitely surreal."
Kyle Wright will be providing a daily diary from the combine for NFL.com. Check back throughout the week to find out how the quarterback feels about his performance in Indianapolis.