Wright could jump into mix in Miami

On a thin and aging defensive line in Miami, Manuel Wright could see immediate playing time.

Updated: July 15, 2005, 3:22 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

The consensus entering Thursday's supplemental draft was that defensive tackle Manuel Wright would be selected by either a franchise so deep at the position that he'd have ample time to develop, or by one so thin he'd be thrown immediately into the fire in 2005.

Hear that sizzle in the background, Manny? It's the frying pan.

Selected by the Miami Dolphins, the former Southern California backup might not enjoy the benefit of an apprenticeship. First-year Dolphins coach Nick Saban knows all about redshirting a player, but given the state of the Miami interior defensive line, granting Wright a formative season for 2005 might be a luxury Saban simply can't afford.

Wright, a backup to 2005 high-round draft choices Mike Patterson (Philadelphia, No. 1) and Shaun Cody (Detroit, No. 2) with the Trojans, was the highest-rated prospect in the supplemental pool. Yet it was mildly surprising he was the only player selected, after some teams indicated interest in wide receivers Roscoe Crosby (Clemson) and Agim Shabaj (Michigan State) and UNLV cornerback Charles Ealy.

It is expected that at least a few of the eight players who went undrafted Thursday, most notably Crosby, will sign free-agent contracts.

Possessing enormous physical gifts, but regarded as an underachiever who might have actually earned first-round status in the 2007 draft had he been able to play the final two years of his college eligibility, Wright was targeted for several weeks by Dolphins officials. The team sent five representatives -- including general manager Randy Mueller, defensive coordinator Richard Smith and defensive line coach Dan Quinn -- to his workout Friday.

The reason for Miami's ardor: With the retirement of Tim Bowens because of recurring back problems, and Larry Chester's ongoing recovery from knee surgery, the club is woefully thin at tackle. Even if Chester is ready for the start of camp -- which is a long shot at this point -- he will be limited to one practice daily.

Miami, which is switching to a 3-4 front this season, added veteran Keith Traylor as a free agent, after New England released him. But even Traylor, a 13-year veteran, has scant experience as a pure 3-4 nose tackle. The Dolphins also signed veterans Kevin Carter and Vonnie Holliday, each of whom has played some tackle in the past, but always in a 4-3 scheme. Twelve-year veteran Jeff Zgonina is also more of a 4-3 tackle.

So Wright, who checked in at slightly more than 6-foot-5 and a ponderous 329 pounds for his Friday audition for scouts, could find himself, literally and figuratively, in the middle of the action shortly after reporting to training camp in two weeks. On a thin and aging unit, and with a franchise whose realistic expectations for '05 are modest at best, Wright could quickly work his way into the tackle rotation.

There had been rumors the Eagles, who boast one of the deepest tackle contingents in the league, were considering choosing Wright. Had that occurred, the youngster certainly would have had more time to develop. One irony of Wright's situation is that in going to the Dolphins, he might actually log meaningful snaps quicker than the two tackles he played behind in college.

The cat-quick Patterson is a terrific fit for the Eagles' defense, but there are a lot of names ahead of him on the depth chart as he enters camp, and he will have to earn playing time. Cody also faces a battle for playing time with a Detroit team that is deep at tackle.

Given their glaring need at the position, the Dolphins' gamble on Wright was probably a solid one, particularly in the fifth round. Most observers had projected Wright as a third- or fourth-round choice before his workout. But his sluggishness and an obvious lack of conditioning, despite having had a month to prepare for his workout, dropped his stock with some teams.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

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