"I was told a couple of weeks ago by (media relations director) Joe Galbraith," Wright said. "They asked me just make the school look good, make myself look good, and try to tell them how we're going to do this season."
Well, it isn't quite so detailed as preparing to defend a Mississippi State opponent in conference competition. Still, taking to the stage—and to the scattered rooms reserved for radio, television, and internet interviewing—to speak for both his team and his new coach has involved at least some coaching. Not that anyone really wants to dull-down the player's talking points, necessarily. But just like game-week, a little scouting can't hurt make the man more comfortable for microphone and camera. Lots and lots of microphones and cameras.
"I've been asked a bunch of questions, just to get a response I'm going to give," Wright explained. "Certain questions might need an answer; sometimes they might ask a question I don't need to answer, try to beat around the bush with it." With a smile, too, so as not to give offense. Speaking of which, Wright at least has one advantage over his cohort: as a defensive Dog he ought not get that many queries about the new spread offense Mullen is installing in Starkville.
"I'll leave that up to Sherrod!" the linebacker laughed. Though if asked, he has no lack of encouraging words about how that side of the Bulldog lineup has developed through almost seven months exposure to the spread system. "I sure did get to see a lot of it. It's real good.
"They put it in this spring and they did better than I thought they would. It's hard to defend because everything is so spread-out and you've got to make open-field tackles. And it's an offense that I think is going to work."
Meanwhile the Bulldog defense ought to work pretty darn well in its own right. The pre-fall depth chart might list only four seniors in the two-deep but there is a good bit more combined experience here than mere letterman-totals can show. There are as many seasoned juniors like Wright with either starting or heavy backup duty on their resumes, and a vigorous spring session revealed that the true sophomores and redshirt freshmen are more than ready to step up or step in. As are the two junior college spring transfers, weakside linebacker Chris White and defensive tackle Pernell McPhee, who earned instant first-team jobs.
For his part Wright is the ranking tackler on the team, at least based on 2008 statistics. As a true sophomore the strongside ‘backer piled up 72 stops, second only to graduated linebacker Dominic Douglas; but Wright was way ahead in tackles for losses (nine) and sacks (four). Thus this is a good season to start pushing the Olive Branch native for all-conference candidacy, which appearing to several hundred media on the opening day of this year's press-fest is naturally aimed at. Ditto for Sherrod, one of the league's rising tackles who will benefit from this August exposure.
"It will be something big for me," Wright agreed. "I'm glad Coach Mullen picked me because this opportunity to make myself and the school look real good." Naturally some wonder if the first-year coach might should have gone with seniors for this league-wide event, and Mullen could have picked from a couple of upperclass contenders who already have a degree of name recognition with league media.
At the same time sending younger players to Birmingham is not a new thing for State. Most obviously on offense, where the last two years underclass quarterbacks got the assignment including a sophomore Wes Carroll in 2008. Coaches and media relations staff do want to get their players ‘pub' but at the same time want capable spokesmen for the squad and team. Which last July another linebacker did as a senior; in fact Jamar Chaney is now back for a bonus senior season after getting a medical redshirt based on playing only one '08 game before injury.
Middle linebacker Chaney will likely be Wright's top competitor for the team tackle title, but he doesn't mind handing off the media days duty. "I haven't talked with him about it yet but I'll be sure to ask him what to be prepared for!" Wright said. It's a safe guess the older Dog will tell his younger comrade to keep it simple, stay on story, and just enjoy the opportunity to talk for the team.
"I'm very honored to represent the defense," Wright said, meaning not just on the field but now off it as well. "I believe I've done a good job thus far and I believe I'll keep it going throughout the season."
Mississippi State, originally scheduled to appear in Birmingham on the third day of the annual SEC event, swapped slots with LSU and now has the 3:00 Wednesday assignment for Mullen and the two juniors. State will share the day with Eastern Division squads Kentucky and Vanderbilt and Western rival Arkansas, meaning that new Bulldog boss Mullen stands to be the most-covered story coming out of day-one.