NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
On Aug. 26, the New England Patriots traded six-time Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a fourth-round pick and second-year tight end Tim Wright. The first three weeks of the regular season have since passed, and the addition of the converted Rutgers wide receiver has remained a subtle one.
It wasn’t expected to be. The manner in which Wright arrived and Mankins departed was far from it, but there was a belief that the 6’4”, 220-pound target would be able to add a different dynamic. There was a belief that, while not a blocker of the same caliber as Brandon LaFell, Wright would carve a purpose as an offline receiver in New England’s offense.
He still could.
Wright caught 54 passes for 571 yards and five touchdowns as an undrafted rookie in 2013, and his first transpired three games in against the Patriots last September. With the Patriots this September, though, Wright has caught just four passes for 35 yards.
The 24-year-old has been thrown to five times. He’s been in the game for a total of 34 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. And he’s been out of it for all but 13 snaps since the opener.
It was then, in the opener versus the Miami Dolphins, that Wright was in for 21 plays. On one of them, No. 81 appeared to show signs of the learning curve, heading in motion without being signaled to. But on three other snaps, he notched three receptions.
The initial one took place on a 1st-and-10 in the first quarter, when he aligned off the tackle for a drag route over the middle.
Wright cut behind Miami line and underneath the second level occupied by Dolphins linebackers Jason Trusnik and Koa Misi. And before their coverage could transition, quarterback Tom Brady found him at the mesh point.
The pass play gained eight yards before Dolphins swarmed. But it hinted at how the Patriots intended to utilize him that day. Wright was looked to again on another 1st-and-10 later on.
And with it, he assembled for a quick out that designed him into space down in the flat.
As the secondary drew off the nearest receiver, Julian Edelman, there was little space to be explored. Equally so, Wright ran with a wide angle and was unable to gain much traction before his cleats got taken out from underneath him.
The net was two yards.
But he was dispersed in a similar fashion during the final minutes of that game on a 3rd-and-2. At that juncture, Wright stepped in for a deeper out pattern opposite the off coverage of cornerback Jamar Taylor.
As Wright reached the top of his route and angled back towards the sideline, he manufactured enough separation to shield for the ball. He did, extending for the pass, picking up five and a first down in the process.
Even so, shedding defenders at the apex of routes proved more difficult for Wright in Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings. The Patriots shifted to more run-heavy personnel sets with the likes of blocking tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, sixth offensive lineman Cameron Fleming and fullback James Develin. And as a byproduct, Wright logged eight snaps versus Minnesota and was the intended recipient on only one of them.
It was the Patriots’ final offensive play of the game – a 4th-and-8.
Wright was prepped to run an out route with an inside release. As he broke off the line to do so, however, he encountered the jam of rookie outside linebacker Anthony Barr.
He was re-routed. Stifled. And by the time Brady delivered the ball outside the numbers, he was still fighting to disengage from Barr inside the numbers.
With that, Wright’s second regular-season game in a Patriots uniform drew to a close. He would only return for five plays in his third game. Brady connected with him on one.
It wasn’t on a short drag route, a quick out or a first-down and out like his previous three catches. On a 1st-and-10 against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, it was a deep angle route that brought Wright to the football.
He was sent in motion from the right wing to the left seam, and veteran nickelback Carlos Rogers followed suit.
Yet as Rogers transferred his responsibilities to covering Kenbrell Thompkins, Wright ran unguarded up through the Oakland secondary.
Wright collected 20 yards before right cornerback Tarell Brown and safety Charles Woodson closed. And while only a glimpse, he was able to showcase the dynamic the Patriots were believed to be acquiring along with him.
That dynamic is still there. It’s about finding a way to put it to use.