Even as a second-round choice, Eric Wright was no afterthought.
Wright was considered the heir apparent at cornerback from the moment his name was announced on that fateful April day. Why else would the Browns have packaged three picks to move up and snag him out of UNLV?
And, sure enough, there was Wright starting against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Game 1 last year. Though he experienced both successes and failures, as do most rookies, there was no mistaking his improvement by season's end.
Wright finished with just one interception in 14 games – he missed two weeks with a knee injury. But he clearly provided stickier coverage in the second half of 2007 and is hoping to continue that progress this fall.
The old Aesop's Fable about the tortoise beating the hare with a philosophy that slow and steady wins the race? Wright must have read that as a child.
"It's a matter of being slow and steady and looking to grow a couple percent every day," he says. "It's not going to be a big jump, but there are some things I learned last year that I'm going to take with me into this year. I'm a lot more comfortable because I know what to expect now. That's the major difference.
"I think it's a mixture of both the physical and the mental. You have to continue to better your understanding of your defense and other offenses, plus there are things you do on the field that you want to get better at. You want to get bigger, faster, stronger."
The pressure on Wright and the other cornerbacks has increased during the offseason. The loss of Leigh Bodden via trade to Detroit and Daven Holly to a significant knee injury leaves little depth and experience.
Wright, however, warns that the talent on hand shouldn't be discounted. He praised newly acquired veteran cornerback Terry Cousin and expressed his feeling that those currently wearing Browns uniforms are quite capable.
"What you see is an apparent lack of depth," he says. "But we have a lot of guys on this team going out there and trying to be productive. It looks like we might not have the guys to get the job done, but I personally think we're OK. We have guys who can play, so we have to just play hard and let the plays come and try not to force anything. Everything is looking good so far."
What is certainly looking good, at least in terms of helping Wright and his fellow cornerbacks, is the defensive line. The trades for All-Pro Shaun Rogers and established standout Corey Williams were intended to have a domino effect on the entire defense. Their ability to rush the quarterback should mean that the defensive backs wouldn't be required to stick on their receivers quite as long as they were forced to last year.
It also could result in hurried passes and an increase in interceptions. Wright certainly hopes so, but he also feels strongly that his performance and that of his peers in the secondary will help the defensive linemen as well. Ideally, they will all be scratching each other's backs.
"The defensive line has some big guys who can get into the backfield and cause pressure, so that's going to make our job easier," Wright says. "But on the flip side of that, we have guys along the back line who can cover for a long time and allow them to get into the backfield, so it's all about team chemistry. We have it both ways, so I think we're going to have a good defense."
Considering that the Browns finished 10-6 last season despite one of the most porous defenses in the NFL, one can only imagine what they might achieve if Wright is proven right.