With just 31 career tackles, seven and a half tackle for a loss, and two sacks, Wright struggled to find his footing under two defensive coordinators as well as defensive line coach Mike Pelton. When Ellis Johnson was named Auburn's new defensive coordinator and the Tigers brought back Rodney Garner it signaled an immediate change for Wright and the rest of the defensive line.
While it has been baby steps for the group through spring practice and into the fall, last Saturday night may have been the coming out party for everyone involved. Dominating the Ole Miss offensive line, Auburn had six sacks of quarterback Bo Wallace and 14 tackles for a loss. It has been a long time since the Tigers had played that way up front on defense and Wright said it has been a matter of working hard each and every week.
"That's something we've been trying to bring this whole season," Wright said. "We've had five games so far and there is no doubt this has been our best game. It has been the least angry coach Garner has been on the bench. When you get two sacks from a defensive lineman during a drive there's really not much he can say. He was real proud of us of course. More than anything I'm proud of my teammates, especially the young guys. It was definitely a different feel and a different vibe in our D-Line area at halftime and after the game."
Already with a pair of sacks, six and a half tackles for a loss and 11 total tackles, Wright has turned up his play dramatically in the first half of his junior year. Playing perhaps the most complete game of his career last week, Wright said it was fun to see the hard work pay off.
"I felt great about it," Wright said of the Ole Miss performance. "I only had one sack on the year and to be able to get two in the game, for anybody that would be a goal they have for themselves. Through Tiger Walk I hear crazy numbers like ‘Gabe get three sacks'. I just kind of laugh. I'm just proud of the work the guys put in during the week, including myself. It was good to go out there Saturday and see us show up."
Wright drops Wallace
The driving force behind Wright's improvement and that of the defensive line is Garner. A demanding coach that is always looking for more from his guys, Wright said Garner has been a big influence on all the guys since he arrived.
"He's an honest coach.," Wright said. "He'll pat you on the back when you're doing well. He has to be the coach when you're doing bad. There is no doubt on my mind that he wants us to do well. He tells us that all the time like ‘I yell at you all the time because I'm a coach and at the same time I want you to do well'. He was probably the most proud of us coming in Sunday and watching film."
While Wright and the older guys have stepped up their games, they have been pushed by a group of newcomers that have provided immediate help for the Tigers. Junior college transfer Ben Bradley and true freshmen Montravius Adams, Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel have all played well this fall while getting adjusted to life in the SEC.
"It has been unbelievable to be honest, especially being in their shoes two years ago," Wright said. "We knew those guys could come in and be impact players. That's why we recruited them. It's just a blessing to be able to say I had a hand in that recruiting. I would definitely put my name on Mon, Carl and Elijah. They had slow falls, but for those guys to be freshmen and have the mental attitude of a senior, to be able to stay in that playbook and work in the weight room it gives me a high level of respect for them being an upperclassman and seeing those guys perform on Saturdays."
Auburn will face Western Carolina at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The homecoming game can be seen only on pay-per-view.