Dolphins rookie DT Wright has shoulder surgery

Updated: May 8, 2006, 3:50 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Rookie defensive tackle Rodrique Wright, whose surprising plummet in the draft ended when the Miami Dolphins finally selected him in the seventh round, underwent Monday surgery to repair the torn right rotator cuff which prompted his slide.

The surgery will sideline the former University of Texas star for a prolonged period and could cost him his entire rookie year. But after consulting with the Miami medical staff, Wright decided surgery was the best option when considering long-term consequences for his professional career.

"We're going to go the route of what's best for me and the longevity of my career," said Wright after a Sunday workout that concluded the Dolphins' weekend mini-camp. "It could be something that could mess me up [for the long-term], so it's probably best to get it done, if it's needed."

As the 226th player selected, and the last defensive tackle to come off the board, Wright is viewed as potentially one of the biggest steals in the 2006 draft class. Wright was considered a first-round candidate at the outset of the 2005 college season, and certainly a first-day choice in most analyses leading up to the lottery.

But tests before the draft revealed that Wright had a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. The Dolphins conducted a follow-up MRI exam late last week and presented the results to Wright and his representatives. The best-case scenario, it seems, is that Wright might be back on the field for the second half of the 2006 season.

Even if he misses the entire campaign, however, Miami officials feel he was more than worth the risk, given that they landed a highly-regarded prospect at a premium position, and were able to get him in the seventh round.

"It may take him a while to come back, but we thought it was worth it to be able to get this quality a player, even though he may not be able to play immediately," said Dolphins coach Nick Saban.

At the weekend mini-camp, Wright participated in three of five practices. He missed two sessions Saturday because he returned to Texas to attend the funeral of an uncle.

Wright played much of his junior season and all of his senior year with the shoulder problem, but it wasn't until Saban phoned him on the morning of the second day of the draft that the former Longhorns star understood the seriousness of the injury and the possibility that surgery might be needed. At least three other franchises had "red flagged" Wright as a medical risk and the Carolina Panthers removed him from their draft board entirely.

The injury never sidelined Wright for even a single game and he appeared in 50 contests in four college seasons. Notable is that, over his last two seasons, Wright's statistics were not nearly as prolific as in his first two years. As a freshman and sophomore, he totaled 145 tackles and 12 sacks. His numbers dropped to 82 tackles and 5½ sacks in 2004-2005.

There was a chance Wright could continue to play with the torn rotator cuff, but Saban said last week the condition could cut short his career. Because the Dolphins value Wright for the future, they recommended surgery so they could get him quickly into a rehabilitation program. Such surgeries can require six months of rehabilitation for non-quarterbacks.

"If he continues to play with it," Saban said last week, "it's going to have a degenerative effect on his ability to play long-term."

Despite checking in at 6-feet-5 1/8 and 300 pounds, Wright actually has a lean frame and plays with good lateral range. He was clocked at 5.08 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, had a 32-inch vertical jump and performed 31 repetitions on the standard 225-pound bench press.

Wright could continue to play tackle and perhaps even bulk up more if he stays at the position. Miami coaches, though, also think he can play end, especially on the early downs in a 3-4 front. The Dolphins have continued to incorporate more 3-4 looks, the scheme that Saban ultimately prefers as his base defense, during the offseason.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.