Of all of the Bears signings in 2017, the one that fascinates me the most is wide receiver Kendall Wright.
Wright is an enigma. Drafted in the first round of the 2012 annual player selection process, the 5’10” 191 lb receiver had his best year under former Titans offensive coordinators Chris Palmer and Dowell Loggains. And then, after a wonderful 2013 season where he recorded 94 catches for 1,079 yards in a breakout season, Wright’s role gradually diminished as the Titans went through Ken Whisenhunt, Jason Michael and Terry Robiskie as play-callers.
A high maintenance player, Wright couldn’t hold back his frustrations. For example, after a particularly disappointing loss to the Bills in 2015, Wright cut loose. “I’m beyond frustrated,” Wright said. “I don’t feel like I’m being able to do what I can do until late in games. I feel like I’m a good receiver and I feel like I’ve been open and I can beat the DBs or whoever is (covering) me, but I haven’t really been given the opportunity I’ve been looking for.”
“I just want to be relevant again. I don’t feel like I’m being relevant at all.”
Asked if he was the primary target on Mariota’s final throw, which was intercepted, Wright said: “I don’t know. I can’t remember the last time I was the primary option on anything. He threw it and I tried to make a play on it.”
What exactly did Wright mean when he said that he didn’t feel like he was being allowed to do what he can do?
As it turns out, Wisenhunt, Michael and Robiskie all shared one common characteristic that Wright felt restricted him. While Wright was given a little more room to “freelance” on his routes under Loggains, the later offensive coaches all had rigid offensive systems where they insisted that Wright stay on script. Robiskie was particularly blunt last summer as he entered his first year as Titan’s offensive coordinator when he said that neither Wright nor anyone else was going to “freelance” in his offense.
“We’ve got 11 guys that are going to be on the field,” Robiskie said. “We’ve got 11 guys that we say, `This is your job and here is your responsibility,’ and I think Kendall is like everybody else — realizing those other 10 guys are counting on Kendall to be where he’s supposed to be and do what he’s supposed to do.”
To top it off, Wright was the number 3 receiver in 2016 in a system under Robiske that ran fewer three receiver sets than any team in the league.
For what its worth, Wright himself objects to the term “freelance”.
“I would say I was put in position on choice routes to make plays on linebackers and safeties,” Wright said. “I wouldn’t call it freedom. I don’t really know a coach who will go out there and say, ‘Kendall, just get open.’ It was choice, option routes. I don’t know where freedom came from. I’m sure somebody made that up, took it and ran with it.
“They was making it sound like … the quarterback was just saying `Kendall, you go do whatever you want and I’ll find you.’ I do what I’m told. I run the route I’m told.”
Whatever you call it, Wright couldn’t wait to get out of Tennessee and into a system where he felt more comfortable. Wright said after becoming a free agent that he finally feels “free”.
“I’ll be glad to see what I can do,” Wright said, “and make a team fall in love with me and go and do what I know I can do.”
Wright obviously believes that re-uniting with Loggains will get him more of those option routes where he’s lined up on a guy and told to just go out and beat him. And that, he hopes, will put him back into a groove.
We shall see.
I’ve seen situations like this before where players think a change in system will improve their play. More often than not, they are making excuses for their own failures and these changes rarely work out.
A great example is that of Mario Williams’s move from the Bills to the Dolphins last year. Williams let it be known that his poor 2015 performance was due to a move to outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme that then Bills head coach Rex Ryan was running. As it turned out, it wasn’t the scheme. It was Williams and he had a miserable 2016 with his hand on the ground in the Dolphins 4-3 scheme.
If Wright has the same kind of season this year that he did the last three years of his career, watch out. It won’t be great to be inside the Bears locker room but will be a fun place for fans looking in from the outside. History tells us that Wright isn’t the kind of guy to suffer in silence. I think we’ll be able to count on him for at least one good eruption during the year.
On the other hand, it will be fascinating to watch and see if Loggains can extract more out of Wright when other coordinators couldn’t. He takes a lot of abuse from the local media. If he pulls this off and makes Wright into the number 1 receiver he seems to think he is, Loggains will definitely have earned some respect.
I’m just not holding my breath.