MANKATO – Jarius Wright has spent most of his NFL career lining up outside the hash marks. But the Vikings saw him make enough plays from the slot last season to believe the fourth-year wide receiver could make a more permanent jump inside.
Since veteran Greg Jennings, the team’s typical slot receiver the past two seasons, was released following the Mike Wallace trade in March, Wright has usually been the one running out of the slot in the Vikings’ three-receiver sets, between Wallace and Charles Johnson.
The Vikings think Wright has what it takes to stay there — and thrive there — this season.
“The best things that Jarius did were when he was in the slot,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “We keep working him outside, but we know he has big value for us in the slot as well.”
Last season, Jennings ran 66.8 percent of his routes out of the slot, per Pro Football Focus. That was the 14th-highest percentage in the NFL. With 38 catches for 495 yards and two scores, he did most of his damage there.
While Jennings ran 377 routes out of the slot, Wright ran only 85. He was more efficient, though, with eight catches for 130 yards in that limited role.
Wright’s short-area quickness and after-the-catch ability should suit him well as a slot receiver.
But Wright, who is listed at 5-10 and 191 pounds, has had to focus on getting stronger because he will have to jostle with linebackers and safeties more frequently on the inside.
“I definitely welcome it. I definitely think I can be a slot receiver also,” said Wright, who had 588 receiving yards in 2014. “I’ve been outside a lot with the Vikings, but I can definitely transfer over and play the slot.”
Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf were in Mankato to watch Tuesday’s practice.
Mark Wilf said this is the most excited he’s been since the brothers purchased the team a decade ago.
“The optimism is not so much about the talent but also what we have in terms of organizationally, structurally,” Wilf said. “We have a GM and a coach and a coaching staff we believe in. We feel we have a pool of talent. But again, [there’s] a lot of hard work ahead of us to get where we want to go.”
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said the competition between incumbent long snapper Cullen Loeffler and newcomer Kevin McDermott will be an “open” one and that Loeffler won’t be given an edge because he’s entering his 12th season with the team.
The Vikings plan to have both get equal snaps in practice, with Loeffler and McDermott taking turns when it comes to who fires the first snaps.
“We’re trying to make it as even as possible to make it as fair as possible and we will evaluate it from there,” Priefer said.
Back to tackle
Rookie T.J. Clemmings’ move to guard didn’t last long. After trying out the new position this spring, the Vikings have moved him back to right tackle.
The return could deny him an opportunity to play right away, but the Vikings feel tackle is probably the better long-term spot for Clemmings.
“It was a learning experience. The first time I played guard was in the NFL,” the fourth-round pick said. “So there was some learning to do. [There’s] still some learning to do at right tackle. But it’s all about growing as player.”
Fine like wine
Veteran CB Terence Newman, who is shooting to be an NFL starter for a 13th consecutive season, shared the secret to his longevity in the league.
“Red wine. Good pinot noir. Every now or then a [cabernet],” the 36-year-old said. “I don’t bathe in it like [NBA player] Amar’e Stoudemire. I just drink it. I try to put that in my bloodstream and age with the wine.”