There is a lot to see in California outside linebacker commit Markus Wright’s highlight tape, at over 10 minutes long, but then again, there’s a lot to unpack about the way Wright plays.
[READ MORE: Wright’s Mother an AFL General Manager]
The basics: Last season, Wright recorded 95 tackles, 7.0 sacks, 13 TFL, three forced fumbles and one interception on defense, while hauling in 23 catches for 346 yards and five touchdowns on offense. He earned First-Team All-Region recognition, and First-Team Bi-City, as well.
The Golden Bears like Wright’s versatility, and that’s on display from 0:00 to 10:20. He plays MIKE linebacker, outside linebacker (both MIKE and WILL), hand-in-the-dirt tight end, inside receiver and outside receiver. At 8:20, we even see him give a little bit of a nickel back look, dropping back before breaking on a run to his side, shedding a block and stopping the run for a loss. Bottom line: He’s a football player, all 6-foot-3, 215 pounds of him.
“When I talked to coach, he said that he liked me as a possible strong side or weak side linebacker,” Wright says. “It really depends on how I develop, and how I take all the training. He said that if I gain weight, and I don’t keep the speed that I have, he can put me on the inside, but he said that I’m a versatile guy and they could move me all over the field, wherever they need me.”
Wright plays in a 4-3 defensive scheme, so from the get-go, he’s familiar with the concepts employed by Cal defensive coordinator Art Kaufman. He plays up at the line as a pass rusher, but also plays off the line, covering receivers, and in the box, as well. We also see him as an inside stand-up rusher in a two-down scheme at 8:52.
He’s also played both outside linebacker spots, and as we’ve seen, the Bears flip their outside backers upon occasion. Whatever side he’s coming from, Wright can still cover, sideline-to-sideline, as we see notably at 5:38, when Wright drops into coverage and breaks up a pass on a crossing route from the opposite side of the field, reading the quarterback’s eyes. It’s clear that Wright is a very heady player, as we see him reading plays as they happen and changing his angle of attack.
What we also see is that Wright moves his feet very well.
At 6:20, Wright, playing weakside backer, shows a lot of patience and good instincts. You can see how subtle his movements are, keeping his shoulders square while his feet keep moving, allowing him to defeat the deke the running back tries to put on him.
We can also see that at 7:11, on offense, when Wright catches a screen pass, and is soon confronted by a pair of defenders, but because he keeps his feet churning, he’s able to gain yards.
Good feet are key to a good linebacker, as much as they are to a good quarterback. From each position he plays, on both sides of the ball, we see active feet from Wright. Granted, these are highlights, but even at the high school level, where good football players can get away with having flat feet because of their superior athleticism, you never seen Wright’s feet fully stop.
At 7:24, we see another example of that, as he holds his block and keeps driving, never stopping, to plow the way for a touchdown run as a blocking receiver.
On a goal line stand at 9:58, Wright is confronted with a mass of opposing offensive blockers, but he never stops moving his feet, gaining ground until he’s able to stop the running back for a loss.
At 9:09, we see Wright’s length disrupting a passing lane. His height really gives Cal a good weapon on the outside, as he’s able to get his hands up and in the face of a quarterback. Playing SAM linebacker, with a tight end to defeat, doesn’t seem to give him pause. At 2:11, defending in in the red zone, he takes on his blocker, and as soon as he disengages, his eyes shift to the ball carrier for a stop. We see that again in the play at 2:36, when he recovers a fumble, and at 3:09, when he takes on a running back, and, after shedding that block, is able to track down the quarterback and drag him down, with very good wrap-up technique.
What can offensive plays tell us about a defensive prospect? Quite a bit. Firstly: He’s got very good ball skills. As we’ve seen with the several former wide receivers on the Bears roster who’ve become safeties, their ability to track the ball in the air and to read a quarterback – looking particularly at Griffin Piatt -- have helped them make a seamless transition, and that’s exactly what we see from Wright at the linebacker position, and it’s what makes him so versatile.
At 3:22, Wright breaks well on a ball over the middle for the stop, and at 4:16, he drops into coverage and hits his receiver as soon as he catches the ball on a quick slant. At 5:18, we see Wright dropping back into coverage, but because he keeps his feet moving, he’s able to make a hard break on a scrambling QB and make the tackle.
Throughout the highlights, we see Wright high-point balls (10:10) and accelerate for downfield grabs. That leaping ability (a 36-inch vertical) will help him to disrupt passes as an outside rusher off the edge, and the leaping ability we see when he blocks a field goal at 9:29 is going to service that ambition, as well.