BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Rookie Major Wright generated a buzz within the Bears organization this week by surprising the staff with his rapid development as a pass defender.
The staff hopes Wright’s ascension continues Saturday against San Diego in his first live action against NFL competition.
“You love to see the ball skills, all that, but how do you perform under pressure?” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli asked rhetorically, referring to Wright. “So you want to have a trust factor that comes [from performing] under the bigger lights, so [you] can see how he functions within [the defensive] system. Once that starts happening, the big plays come.”
Wright appears to be on his way.
Running out of the Soldier Field tunnel last week to practice in front of the home crowd, Wright watched helplessly as adrenaline, brought on by more than 23,000 screaming fans, coursed through his body. Having been out most of the week because of a tweaked groin muscle, Wright fought the urge to lie to the training staff about his health.
The festive atmosphere at Solider Field stoked his competitive fire. Yet Wright – wisely -- didn't want to potentially sacrifice preseason games for one night of competing in front of the home crowd.
“It was definitely hard holding myself back from saying, ‘Oh, I want to go out there and play,’” Wright said. “That first time they went out there at Soldier Field, I wanted to get out there so bad. But I knew I couldn’t play because I just wasn’t ready. The trainers knew, too. So they just kind of guided me, helped me. I did a couple of things out there on the sideline like running and stuff. It was still hard for me to not be out there playing."
Wright returned to practice Sunday, and he almost immediately showcased the playmaking skills that generated the current buzz. Wright intercepted Dan LeFevour in the end zone Tuesday night during a red-zone drill, and he has rotated in with the starters since Monday, in part, because of injuries to Josh Bullocks (quadriceps) and starting strong safety Danieal Manning (hamstring).
Currently listed as a second-stringer on the club’s unofficial depth chart for Saturday’s game, Wright could make a serious play for more playing time -- potentially a starting role -- with his performance in the preseason opener.
“The depth chart will mean a little bit more after this game when we see the guys in game situations,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
The club believes Wright could remedy the takeover drought suffered by the club’s safeties in 2009. Five players at the position combined for only one interception and 14 pass breakups. The club was well aware of Wright’s prowess in run defense when they drafted him, but coaches have been pleasantly surprised with the rookie's knack for making plays against the pass.
“He’s doing good. He’s still a rookie, still makes rookie mistakes,” Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said. “But I think he’s gotten better every day. He learns every day, does a good job of taking notes in the meeting room. You can see improvement in him every day.”
Wright said he didn’t know whether he’d start against the Chargers, but admitted there’s more pressure to perform when he’s working with the first-team defense.
“It’s definitely a big difference because you don’t want to let your teammates down; guys like [linebacker Brian] Urlacher, [and defensive end] Julius Peppers. You don’t want to let those guys down,” Wright said.
Asked if he felt apprehension about working with the first team, Wright nonchalantly shrugged off the question.
“I’m not nervous. It’s the game of football,” he said. “I’ve been doing it all my life.”