Major Wright had his eyes on the Gators this past Saturday, but one player in particular caught his attention.
The former Gator safety, now with the Chicago Bears, says Matt Elam is making a name for himself at the same position he played at UF from 2007-2009.
“He’s doing great. You know, he’s a great player. I feel like he does some things that simulates me,” Wright said. “He hits hard. He goes after the ball. He’s a great player.”
Elam may have made the biggest play in Florida’s 14-6 win over LSU in The Swamp. With the Gators only up 7-6, the junior’s strip of receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to erase a 52-yard completion and give the ball back to the Gators was huge.
Wright made his share of game-changing plays as a safety at Florida as well. Look no further than his four forced fumbles as a freshman or his eight career interceptions. Or you could just ask former Oklahoma receiver Manny Johnson, who was rocked by Wright’s tone-setting hit in a game that saw the highest scoring offense in college football history score just 14 points as Florida won its third national title.
Drafted by Chicago in the third round of the 2010 draft, Wright struggled at first to consistently make the same type of impact he got accustomed to in college. However, the third-year pro already has three interceptions (one returned for a TD) this season, which ties him for second in the NFL entering Week 6 and matches his career total. He’s also tied for third on the team with 23 tackles.
“With me, my main thing was kind of not being disciplined and not communicating a lot before the play,” Wright said. “I feel like now me and (free safety) Chris (Conte), we communicate and now I’m very disciplined. I still got more growing to do, but I feel like I’m growing into this defense.”
Wright and Conte, a third-round pick out of California in 2011, have no choice but to do so in a hurry. The Bears have drafted a safety every year since Lovie Smith took over as head coach in 2004. Over those eight years, Chicago has gone with 56 different starting combinations at safety.
But Wright and Conte have quickly developed a bond on and off the field over the last two years, which is helping the two solidify a position of high priority in the Bears’ Cover-2 scheme.
“We’re boys. We get along great. We have a lot of fun on the field,” Conte said. “We’re both kind of in the same position, being young guys and just learning the position, getting better and more confident together. We talk to each other all the time and we say we want to be the best tandem in the league, and we really believe we can do that.”
The Bears’ pass-rush is helping the team’s back end as Chicago is tied for a league-high 18 sacks. However Wright, who has one year left on his contract after this season, has been in the box as well, using his superb tackling skills as a blitzer and as an extra defender in run support.
When he’s not in the box, Wright is turning a huge corner by turning down his aggressiveness.
In the fourth quarter of a Week 4 win in Dallas, the Cowboys ran a common route combination against a Cover-2 defense: two vertical routes on one side of the field. That type of play forces Wright, covering that deep half of the field, to stay disciplined in his drop and wait for the throw before breaking on the ball.
Wright stayed patient and picked off Tony Romo for his second interception of the game. He had been burned before in the exact same position, but not this time.
“I know with me, it has been taking me a little time to get a beat on what the offense does, to learn more of the defense, to know everything and be disciplined. It took me a while,” said Wright, who had a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Rams in Week 3. “You know, some people they kind of grasp it a little faster, but with me, it took progress.”
MORE FROM MAJOR
On Gator football: “I feel like their defense is definitely stepping up when their number is called,” Wright said. “Elam is playing great at the safety spot. They’re doing pretty good. They’re growing. I feel like they’re up and coming. Sometimes they look kind of sluggish a little bit, but somebody will end up making a play.”
“We’re playing with a lot of energy, a lot of juice. Those guys are up and coming,” Wright said. “They’re progressing. The offense is doing a lot better, defense is playing great, special teams is doing good, so they’re all tying in together. Now they just got to play as a unit.”