This will be an interesting offseason for Vikings wide receiver Jarius Wright. Two years ago he signed a four-year, $14.8 million deal, but in 2016 he appeared in only eight games while catching a career-low 11 passes for 67 yards and one score.
It was a surprising turn for Wright, who looked like a reliable big-play threat over his first four NFL seasons.
The 2012 fourth-round draft choice out of Arkansas said that while last season was very difficult for him, he is always keeping a positive mind-set.
“I wasn’t exactly happy with the way things went last year, but with my personality I’m always going to continue to push forward and be the best I can be,” Wright said.
From 2013 to ’15, Wright played in all of the Vikings’ 48 regular-season games and averaged 34 receptions and 488 yards per season, scoring a total of five touchdowns in that time.
He said that one of his biggest supporters and teachers during that time was George Stewart, who served 10 years as Vikings receivers coach before leaving this offseason for a job with the Los Angeles Chargers.
“He basically taught me how to be a pro — regardless of the good, the bad or the ugly,” Wright said. “I’m going to miss Coach Stewart a lot. Not only was he my coach here, he was also from Arkansas, so we had Arkansas connections.”
Wright added that he has gotten to know new receivers coach Darrell Hazell, albeit in a limited fashion, and believes that the former Purdue coach will bring some fresh ideas to the table.
“He’s definitely going to help,” he said. “I’ve definitely enjoyed getting a chance to work with coach Darrell and just some of the drills that he brings to us and you know he’s had a little chance to coach us but hasn’t had a full chance to coach us on the field. But I’ve definitely enjoyed him so far.”
Looking for improvement
There’s no question that the Vikings offense was a weak link last season. Wright was asked how this team can find improvement in Year 2 with Sam Bradford under center.
“I think we’ll definitely be a totally different offense this year. You know, we’re kind of simplifying things where we can make it easier to just play fast,” he said. “That’s one of the big things on offense is just being able to feel comfortable and play fast.”
Wright was asked if he would have any interest in returning kicks, now that Cordarrelle Patterson left for Oakland. “I’m definitely interested in doing whatever helps the team,” he said. “If it’s returning kicks or returning punts, I don’t mind doing that, at all.”
Wright, 27, said his main priority in the offseason has been getting his endurance and conditioning ready for the long season.
“Just mainly my big thing is staying in shape and running,” Wright said. “I did a lot of running and lifting weights, but I run way harder and try to change up the running styles.”
When he was asked about Bradford, Wright said that one of the main things he has noticed about him is his preparation and intelligence as a quarterback.
“You know, Bradford does a great job at studying and preparing for the game and knowing exactly his reads,” he said. “He does a great job of going through all of his reads. That’s one thing I’ve noticed he does really well, besides just throwing the ball. He’s a quarterback. He’s a quarterback in the NFL, so you expect him to be able to throw the ball, but the way he prepares and the way he throws the ball is like none other.”
Wright, who has a career-long touchdown catch of 87 yards and has a lot of deep-play speed, was asked if he thinks Bradford will look for more deep passes to open up the offense.
“I think he will. Like I said, he’s comfortable with the system now,” Wright said. “I know it was hard for him coming into a new system last year and just understanding everything. We got some more guys in here to protect him and added some weapons to the offense, so I think it’ll be a great season for Sam Bradford.”
As for the Vikings’ prospects as a whole in 2017, he said: “We have a great chance. We just have to come out and play tough, physical defense and continue to move the chains on offense and put up points and we’ll be where we want to be.”
In his sixth season, Wright is far and away the longest-tenured Vikings receiver. He said that when he was drafted, he didn’t have much of a concept of what the team’s culture was like.
“You know, it was very exciting just to get an opportunity to play in the NFL,” he said. “To be honest I didn’t really know too much about Minnesota besides Cris Carter and Randy Moss days. I’ve been here six years now and I’ve grown to love Minnesota.
“I didn’t get a chance to play as much as I’d have liked as a rookie. We had Percy Harvin and he was having a great year. Through eight games they were talking about him being the MVP. I didn’t get a chance until he got hurt, but after that I remember my rookie year we needed to win four out of the last six games to reach the wild card game, and we did that.”
Now Wright is hoping he can get that chance again after a disappointing campaign last season. And if the Vikings are going to show improvement on offense, he could be a big part of that equation.
• Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford was asked if being with the team all offseason is a big advantage compared with last year, when he joined just before the season opener. “Obviously going through the change that we did kind of halfway through the season, having worked with Pat [Shurmur] and been with Pat before, I think that really helped me just because we have a really good relationship, and I felt like we were able to communicate,” Bradford said. “Towards the end of the year I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on things.”
• Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck said that some of his players are spending time abroad before the season begins. “We do have most of our players in summer school, I would say 95 percent of them are in summer school, and a lot of them are doing internships,” Fleck said. “We have a lot of kids overseas right now, which is really exciting. It’s nice to see Emmit Carpenter, our All-Big Ten kicker, he’s in Madrid, and doing an internship out there. I love to be able to see our players travel internationally, to be able to use the resources we have at the University of Minnesota, and expand your knowledge not just athletically but this is socially, as well. Get out there and see the world while you can. I’m really proud of our players studying abroad. I’m really proud of our players, especially in the month of May, once you’re done with school, those two weeks you have off, we promote our players to get out and go study abroad for two weeks, and very excited about the handful of guys we have doing that this year and look forward to doing that more in the years to come.”
• Second baseman Brian Dozier said the Twins’ recent troubles at home should not be overemphasized. “It’s easy to talk about a lot of the hiccups we’ve had the past few games,” he said after the 1-5 homestand ended Wednesday. “But let us not lose sight that were are still a first-place team going into June. Trying to be as optimistic as possible.”