EAGAN, Minn. — Forget simple fly patterns, Kendall Wright’s career has been all about learning on the fly.
The dubious stat line not of his doing: nine different starting quarterbacks, four head coaches and four unique offensive coordinators in his first six pro seasons.
Selected by Tennessee in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Wright played for three head coaches (Mike Munchak, Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Mularkey) and four offensive coordinators (Chris Palmer, Dowell Loggains, Jason Michael and Terry Robiskie) in five seasons with the Titans.
Seven quarterbacks — Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Zach Mettenberger, Charlie Whitehurst, Marcus Mariota and Matt Cassel — started games for the Titans during that span.
Wright started 41 of 66 games in Tennessee and recorded 280 catches for 3,244 yards and 18 touchdowns.
At the end of his rookie deal, Wright landed in Chicago for 2017, adding two more starting quarterbacks — Mike Glennon and rookie Mitchell Trubisky — and another head coach (John Fox). At least Loggains was the Bears offensive coordinator last season when Wright led Chicago with 59 receptions for 614 yards.
Fast-forward to April when Wright signed with Minnesota. He talked to former Baylor teammate Robert Griffin III and liked what he heard about fellow 2012 draftee Kirk Cousins, who had signed with the Vikings when free agency opened, after previously teaming with Griffin. Wright caught 108 passes for 1,663 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2011 at pass-happy Baylor to help Griffin win the Heisman.
Another starting quarterback, another offensive coordinator (John DeFilippo) and another head coach (Mike Zimmer).
“I’ve had quite a bit of adjustment. It’s no different,” Wright said. “You’ve just got to be a pro about it, handle it how you’re supposed to handle your business, do everything you’re supposed to do and do it the right way. Everything will start picking up.”
For all of Wright’s experience, he said there was a transition period here during spring Organized Training Activity practices. He worked heavily with the second team and Trevor Siemian, who was acquired by Minnesota in a trade, and worked his way into some reps with the first team during camp.
Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are returning after dazzling in 2017, and Laquon Treadwell has had a strong offseason in preparing for his third pro season.
DeFilippo said during a session with media members on Monday that Wright has “done everything that we’ve asked him to do and at a high level.”
“I’ve told him this, so I’m not telling you anything that I haven’t told him, I thought when he [got here, he started out] a little bit slow, and I think he was trying to grasp everything,” DeFilippo said. “And then once he grasped what we were really trying to do, I think over training camp and the last few OTAs, you really saw his game take off.”
Wright said he studied hard and incorporated a method that he’s found helps him the most.
“They don’t give you the iPad just to give them like you give to your kids. You’ve got to look at the information and take notes. That’s what I do,” Wright said. “I go up there and draw every play up. I don’t use the position. I just draw the concept of the play. If you draw the concept up, you’ll be able to play any position instead of just going out there and trying learn one position. I try to learn all of them.”
Back in 2013, when Wright totaled 94 receptions and 1,079 yards with Locker (334 on 31 receptions) and Fitzpatrick (745 on 63), Fitzpatrick said Wright had a “streetballer-ish” way of running routes. It was a compliment, accompanied with the expectation that the receiver would get to the spot he was supposed to reach at the right time.
When the Titans changed coaches and systems in 2014, they requested that Wright change his approach. His targets, receptions and yards decreased, but his six touchdowns were a career-best.
Asked if any of the “streetballer” elements fit within the Vikings system, Wright said he is mindful of running routes the requested way while incorporating the ways he knows to get open.
“You don’t want to be a robot,” he explained.
Wright said he feels comfortable playing any receiver position in the Vikings offense.
“If Diggs gets tired, Adam gets tired, Tread, whoever, I can come in and play either position and be successful at it, I think,” Wright said.
Diggs and Thielen have shown the ability to play multiple receiver positions, so Wright could help maintain versatility.
DeFilippo said the 5-foot-10 Wright is a “really good inside receiver” because of the way he effectively creates separation.
“He understands leverage. He understands how to get a DB back to straight-stem them,” DeFilippo said. “I’ve been very, very pleased with Kendall, and he doesn’t make mistakes. He’s got very few, if any, mental errors. I’ll tell you, he’s done a fabulous job at improving himself, no doubt.”
As for what he thinks makes a good inside receiver, Wright pointed to quick-twitch muscles and a plan.
“You’ve got to know what you want to do, be able to read the defenses,” Wright said. “You’ve got to catch the ball quicker. It’s a lot of things, as far as inside and outside. A lot of people like outside because it’s kind of easy out there, but when you’re inside, it’s a little harder. You’ve got to work a little more, but I mean, you can get open, catch the ball and make big plays.”
Wright has one reception for nine yards on two targets in three preseason games, but he’s also turned in some shining moments in Vikings practices.
“I don’t know how many I had, but that’s not how I look at it in the preseason,” Wright said. “To me, I haven’t had many targets, but what I was looking at was, ‘Was I getting open? Was I running the route at the right depth,’ and those types of things. … I was just playing the game I love to play and doing my job.”