- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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The move started as a joke, but felt very natural once he moved. After making his linebacking debut with the Hogs against Jacksonville State, Wright took some time to talk with ESPN.com about his move and what he thinks about Arkansas' defense this season.
What was that move from defensive end to middle linebacker like for you?
Tenarius Wright: Once Highsmith went down in the weight room with his shoulder injury, the coaches came to me and said, "We're going to move you to middle linebacker and see how it folds out." Before that, I was playing with the coaches, joking with them to just look at me [at middle linebacker]. It started off as a joke, but turned into a reality. I was joking, but I was actually serious, and once I moved to middle linebacker I said I'd step my game up. It demanded me to be a bigger leader for our team. Moving to middle linebacker wasn't hard at all. It was something I did in high school, too.
What's it like moving to turn into basically the quarterback of this defense?
TW: At defensive end, when the play goes away, you have to check for the reverse, boot, cut back, but at middle linebacker, if the defense allows you to, you can go get it. I like to hunt the ball. Playing middle linebacker allows me to go left-to-right, sideline-to-sideline.
So, how did it feel to get out there and play your new position at linebacker? I know you were happy about it during the offseason, but how did it feel to move around in your new spot and get a game under your belt?
TW: I feel great after the game. I feel like I made some mistakes, but at the same time I made some great plays. I have to keep going forward and keep getting better each week and improve myself every week.
Were there any moments on the field last Saturday when you got caught up thinking like an end and you tried revert to some of your old ways?
TW: Yeah, I found myself reverting and going back to old habits, like taking off and going full speed on plays when I should have been sitting back and being patient. It's really something that I had to get on and since I missed some parts of camp toward the end I lost a couple of my fundamentals. I'm focusing on those now and regaining my steps and regaining the linebacker mentality.
How important is patience playing linebacker compared to defensive end, especially with all the moving around you're doing now?
TW: Linebacker is really different from defensive end. I was used to coming off the ball and taking contact and being ready to just blow things up and get after it. At linebacker, the patience is the key because some plays develop and take longer than others. Not every play is downhill and headed right at you. And with the coverages that we run, all my help could be to the boundaries, so I have to play the role of being a cut-back guy. That's really the most important thing about playing linebacker -- knowing where your help is.
With one game under your belt at linebacker, what do you like more: defensive end or linebacker?
TW: Well, both positions I can go line up at and play at during a game. I really don't have a preference, I just want to get out there and get after the ball carrier and play defense. Really, my mentality is that I'm a defensive-minded guy, so both positions work out well for me.
With this team, there has been a lot of talk about how you guys have no problem scoring points or putting up yards, but there are still questions about the defense. After the first game, what did you see coming from the defense?
TW: We finally got a chance to get our legs and our feet wet on the field and in a game atmosphere. They got some good plays and some certain plays down the field. They were nick-knacking us and getting quite the yardage from just the small plays there were doing. That's something that we have to keep working forward on to stop those plays. We did try to limit the big plays, but we gave up the small plays that just pounded on and got first down after first down. After that performance, it let us know that the small areas that we've worked on need to be worked on and they can be fixed. They can be altered and turned into the right direction.
You've had two games with defensive coordinator Paul Haynes. What's the main difference you see in this style compared to Coach [Willy] Robinson's style?
TW: We've had two different philosophies. I know for a fact that this year we are trying to step up our game and keep it as simple as possible and just go out and play our game in order to have a sound football game without thinking ahead of things and playing slow. That's really helping us out this year.
For this team to really make a run at an SEC title this year, how important is the defense going to be?
TW: Oh, the defense is very important. We all know that it's a proven fact that defense does win championships and without a defense you can't beat nobody and you don't have the chance to win a championship. We know that the defense is going to play a big role in that big step to trying to win a national championship. The defense is going to have a great deal to do with winning us a national championship.
Do you guys like that there is pressure on this defense and that people are questioning and criticizing you all this season?
TW: We take criticism daily, and we like to respond to criticism. I believe the adversity really gives us the edge and gives us the motivation to keep striving to get better every day. We just like to think of the criticism and think of the pressure as something that's needed, something that we should want. When you're having fun and playing defense and doing what you're supposed to do, there's no real pressure, especially when you're doing something you've done all your life.
Arkansas middle linebacker Tenarius Wright is fresh off his first game at his new position. He moved from defensive end after linebacker Alonzo Highsmith went down with a hamstring injury.