There are a lot of storylines involving wide receivers heading into Sunday’s game between the Vikings and Jets.
There’s the return of Percy Harvin to Minnesota for the first time since he was traded in the offseason of 2013. There’s the ascent of Charles Johnson up the wide receiver depth chart. There’s the lack of playing time and production from Cordarrelle Patterson. There’s the increased touchdown production of Greg Jennings, who has scored touchdowns in each of the last two games to double his season total from two to four.
But one wide receiver who hasn’t been getting recent publicity is third-year pro Jarius Wright. When Teddy Bridgewater took over the starting job, he and Wright had an immediate connection. Wright has the only 100-yard receiving game for the Vikings this season and he sees the growth and on-the-job maturation of Bridgewater as being a big reason for optimism with the Vikings offense.
“Since training camp and every day after that, he gets better at something every day,” Wright said. “You can tell that he’s going to be a special player. He’s already a special player, but, for me personally, I think he’s going to be a name that the guys on ESPN are talking about all the time.”
Sometimes it can be a fine line between a young quarterback and his receivers. In some cases, a quarterback makes his receivers better. In other instances, having elite receivers makes a quarterback better because of the routes they run and the attention to detail they put in to make the quarterback’s job easier.
When it comes to Wright and Bridgewater, Wright is convinced that, early on in training camp, he was doing his part to make Teddy better, but, as the season has worn on, the roles have been reversed as Bridgewater has gained more confidence in his own abilities.
“I think he makes me a better receiver, but at the same time, I think he understands how I run my routes and where I’m going to be,” Wright said. “He has picked up on that more as the year has gone along and as he has built more confidence in me. It helps him out a lot, but I think he makes me a better receiver more than I help him be a better quarterback.”
In his third season, Wright’s game-to-game production has been up and down, often depending on the style of defense the Vikings are playing and the opportunities he has received in the passing game. Asked to give a self-assessment, Wright admitted he is still a work in progress in the NFL but gives himself passing grades in his adjustment to the new offense installed by Norv Turner and his role within it.
“I’m definitely more confident in the way I’m playing,” Wright said. “I watch film and I see a lot of things that I’m doing better than I did last year or as a rookie. I feel like I’m playing at a high level.”
One of the more difficult aspects of the recent games for Wright and the Vikings offense is that he has been limited in the number of passes that are coming his way – a situation that is very similar to that of Cordarrelle Patterson. With both of them drawing increased defensive attention, Bridgewater hasn’t been forcing the ball to them. In Patterson’s case, he has caught just four passes for 42 yards in the last three games, including having his first game with no receptions last week against Carolina – a game in which he was on the field for the offense a total of just three plays.
Wright’s field time has gone down in recent games. In the first eight games, he was on the field for more than 40 percent of snaps in seven of them. In the last four games, he has been on the field for 40 percent of snaps or less in three.
While this could be a source of frustration for both Wright and Patterson, they’re making the most of it and pushing one another to be better.
“I always push Cordarrelle and he always pushes me,” Wright said. “That’s the good thing about having a friend in the receiving room. I can say something and he won’t take it to heart and he can say anything to me the same way. We’re just pushing to make each other better.”
With a young group of players on both sides of the ball that are expected to be key contributors moving forward as the Vikings look to build a championship caliber franchise, building camaraderie is important. For a team whose offense has been centered around Adrian Peterson since the day he arrived on the scene in 2007, Wright sees the young nucleus of talent – both at the wide receiver position and the offense as a whole – as being the foundation to build from in the coming years.
“We definitely have the core players here to be successful, not just in the receivers room, but the whole offense,” Wright said. “We’re just going to keep building on what we’ve done so far and what we can accomplish if we continue to move in that direction. I think the future looks bright for us.”
As the Vikings prepare to take on a Jets team that is clearly in disarray and playing out the string of games that will likely end up with head coach Rex Ryan as a Black Monday casualty, Vikings players are keeping focused on the things that they can do to win Sunday, not concerning themselves over the types of risks desperate teams are willing to make.
One of the reasons the Jets are in the position they’re in is because their pass defense has been atrocious at times, but Wright was quick to point out that you can’t judge a team based strictly on past performance. He expects to see the best the Jets have to offer Sunday, but believes if the Vikings stick to what has made them successful at times during the 2014 season, the rest will take of itself and the Vikes aren’t going to change what they do based on an opponent – successful or unsuccessful.
“The one thing we’ve been preaching is starting fast,” Wright said. “That’s something we haven’t been doing consistently – getting off to a fast start and getting the other team on their heels and playing from behind. When we got the lead last week, you could see how quickly the game changed. It’s important to us to get started strong. It’s not about them. It’s about us and what we can do on offense to help us get ahead early and ultimately win the game.”
Wright sees shift in receivers, Bridgewater
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