'The man of the hour'

As reporters converged toward Manuel Wright's locker on Wednesday afternoon, fellow defensive lineman David Bowens summed up the occasion while sitting at his locker. "The man of the hour," Bowens yelled, drawing a smile from the Dolphins rookie. Wright has been in the spotlight before, but this time the focus is on what the big fella can do on the field.

Nose tackle Keith Traylor almost certainly will miss Sunday's game at San Diego after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday, and that means more playing time for Wright.

The rookie got his first NFL action in Sunday's victory after Traylor experienced problems with his right knee the day of the game, but this time Wright actually will be part of the game plan.

For the first time, Wright has been asked to learn not only the defensive tackle position but also the nose tackle spot.

All that studying this week helped explain the pencil on Wright's left ear as he spoke with reporters.

It's taken a long time for the rookie to get on the field, but he's intent on showing what he can and why the Dolphins spent a fifft-round supplemental pick on him.

"I'm absorbing like a sponge," Wright said. "I think I had it in me, but it's been kind of hard getting it out."

The big issue for Wright earlier in the season was getting himself in better physical condition. That, of course, partly led to the well-publicized episode in training camp.

But Wright clearly has come a long way since then.

"He has made a tremendous amount of progress, not doubt, from his arrival [to the incident in the preseason]," Coach Nick Saban said Wednesday. "All of those things are part of the progress that you make, in terms of guys understanding what is expected, understanding what is required to be a good player and understanding what it takes to be a professional. I think a lot of his maturity can be attributed to the example that gets set by the veteran players on the defensive line. Those guys have probably affected the way he has matured as much as anybody. To have Jason Taylor, Kevin Carter and Keith Traylor that have been outstanding players and really knowing what it takes to play outstanding to be setting an example for you. Those guys also took the time to affect him. I think that was a real positive, in terms of his development. He has made a tremendous amount of improvement and played good for the first time out, no doubt, in the last game and probably will get an opportunity to play more this time around."

Wright's improvement notwithstanding, the loss of Traylor won't help against a San Diego team that features perhaps the best running back in the league in LaDainian Tomlinson.

Jeff Zgonina again will replace Traylor in the starting lineup, and he's coming off a performance against Buffalo that earned him the Dolphins coaches' defensive player of the week award.

But a good deal of focus instead will be on Wright, because of his potential and because of the training camp episode.

"I'm here for a reason," Wright said. "Coach brought me here for a reason. I was determined to make a statement and show everybody that I can play."

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