With Harvin's injury, it might be Wright time

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 8, 2012 - 6:51 AM

The Vikings rookie receiver hasn't played in a regular-season game, but he's working as if opportunity is knocking.

Eighteen receivers were among the first 118 players selected in this year's NFL draft. The first 17 have been active for at least one regular-season game.

And then there's Jarius Wright, pick No. 118, the invisible man to all but those who get to watch the Vikings practice.

Despite playing, er, practicing for a team starving for another play-making receiver, Wright remains stuck in a seemingly parallel universe where he runs in place doing nothing while his peers in the Vikings draft class bring strength, stardom or depth to other previously weak areas at offensive line, defensive back, tight end and the kicking game.

"It's just been real difficult because I like to play," said Wright, who caught 168 passes, averaged 17.5 yards and scored 24 times at Arkansas. "I like to compete. I like to help the team out."

Yet Wright has sat while others zoom on by. Three of the next six receivers drafted behind him already have played and caught passes. One of the three who hasn't is Wright's college and pro teammate, Greg Childs, who certainly would have played by now if he hadn't blown out both knees in training camp.

Wright, meanwhile, has spent the past nine weeks as a back-burner curiosity among fans still clinging to the possibilities they attached to him after he caught six passes for 122 yards (20.3), including a 59-yard touchdown, against Houston's backups in the Vikings' preseason finale. But the 5-10, 180-pounder suddenly finds himself relevant again. Percy Harvin, the guy he backs up, is on crutches with a left ankle the size of a Butterball turkey that's unlikely to shrink in time for Sunday's game against the Lions at Mall of America Field.

"Me, personally, I do think it's my opportunity to crack the door," Wright said. "I've been patiently waiting and if they feel like I'm ready, I feel like I'm ready also."

Reporters aren't allowed to watch any meaningful part of practice during the regular season. So any reports of progress that Wright has made from an undistinguished training camp come from coaches and teammates who always protect their own.

"He's worked really hard in practice, working hard in the weight room," coach Leslie Frazier said. "He's doing everything we've asked him to do. He's on top of what he needs to know from an offensive standpoint. It's just a matter of us going with four receivers at a time. We like some things Stephen Burton gives us when we've gotten Stephen up. But Jarius is doing a good job."

Being stuck behind Burton and his four career catches isn't exactly an endorsement for the highest draft pick at receiver, a position of need. But there's more to Wright's inability to fit into this team's game-day roster puzzle.

"He and Percy are very similar in a lot of ways, and the way we would use him is similar to the way we use Percy," Frazier said. "So that's part of it, for sure."

Even Wright has to smile when someone compares him to Harvin. They're similar in stature, only Wright lacks the Hulk Jr. muscles and crash-test-dummy mentality toward contact that Harvin possesses.

"Uh, I mean, there aren't many people who can get out there and fill Percy's role," Wright said. "With me, you just try to fill the speed part. He's bigger as far as muscles and the like, but our body styles are pretty much the same. As far as body style and speed, that's what you try to get out of that."

The last time the Vikings played the Lions, they won 20-13 at Ford Field in Week 4. Harvin, the league's leader in receptions, was held to three catches for 22 yards. But he did return the game's opening kickoff a franchise-record 105 yards for a touchdown.

Wright said he might have a chance to return kicks as well. The Vikings will go over kick returns in practice on Friday. Marcus Sherels is the favorite to return kicks if Harvin doesn't.

"I'm not going to lie," he said. "I've been praying that I see my name up there. I just want to get a chance to help out the Minnesota Vikings as much as I can."

As for the pressure of filling in for Harvin, an early league MVP candidate, Wright only shrugs.

"I don't think it's any pressure," he said. "I've been doing this my whole life."

Except for the past nine weeks, of course.

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