MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: Gabe Wright well aware of expectations for defense

Posted Aug 18, 2015

Even as a rookie, Gabe Wright is realistic enough to know that comparisons will be made with whoever lines up for the Lions at the defensive tackle position Ndamukong Suh dominated at for the last five seasons.

Being a member of the cast that will try to make up for the departure of a superstar isn’t something that Gabe Wright pretends won’t be in the spotlight.

Even as a rookie, Wright is realistic enough to know that comparisons will be made with whoever lines up for the Lions at the defensive tackle position Suh dominated at for the last five seasons.

Gabe WrightDT Gabe Wright (Photo: Detroit Lions)

Suh might be out of sight since signing with the Miami Dolphins, but he won’t be out of mind.

“It’s pretty well known that we lost three or four inside guys,” Wright said. “That’s why there were guys that they brought in. It’s pretty clear.

“It’s the whole reason we’re working so hard.”

It is inevitable that comparisons will be made to Suh and last year’s performance by the defense, which ranked second overall and No. 1 against the run, allowing only 69.3 yards per game.

The defense got a good start in the preseason opener last week. They held the woeful Jets to six first downs, 123 total yards and 67 on the ground. Wright played 22 of the 44 defensive snaps, the most of any of the Lions’ linemen.

Wright already has experienced how Suh’s performance level is a teaching point for other linemen, especially young players like himself and second-year defensive tackle Caraun Reid.

“It’s easy to refer to a guy who did really well,” Wright said. “You cut the film on and you look at what this defense was able to do last year, of course the guy stands out. We all know that. The coaches know that.

“You can’t be naïve to that fact. The best thing you can do is take in what you’re good at personally, like myself, and try to execute as well as I can.

“Suh’s a different player. Me and Caraun are different players.  He might do some things well that I might not do as well, and vice versa. Stuff might work for him that might not work for me.”

“Work” is more than a word in Wright’s vocabulary. He works at developing his game.

After Saturday’s Family Day practice, Wright spent several minutes hitting the blocking dummy by himself. Sometimes he did it in slow motion, step by step, to perfect his techniques.

Wright was in no hurry to get to the locker room and get a head start on enjoying Sunday’s off day from training camp.

“I was working on my pass-rush moves,” Wright said. “I’m trying to build on my run (defense) and be more physical. I see myself as a quick, athletic guy, but I can’t help this team unless I keep my pads down and work a move.”

In numbers alone, management had work to do in the offseason to resupply the tackle position, and Wright was part of that process. He was drafted in the fourth round out of Auburn. The pick used to draft Wright was acquired in a trade with the Eagles, who get a third-round pick next year in return.

Previously, the Lions added two veteran tackles – Haloti Ngata in a trade with the Ravens, and Tyrunn Walker, who signed as a restricted free agent without compensation when the Saints did not tender him a qualifying offer.

Suh was the biggest loss by far but not the only one. C.J. Mosley, a competent backup, also signed with the Dolphins. Nick Fairley, a first-round pick in 2011 who showed more potential than production in four years as a Lion, signed with the St. Louis Rams.

One man’s opinion: Suh is a legitimate superstar, but it should be no trouble replacing Mosley and Fairley. Fairley did not play the last eight games because of a knee injury, and Mosley contributed only a half sack in the last 14 games. That should not be much to make up.

One thing about Wright that will remind people of Suh. Wright wears No. 90, the same number Suh wore in Detroit.

Wright’s affection for the number comes from his admiration for Julius Peppers, who wore No. 90 for eight years with the Panthers (2002-09) and four with the Bears (2010-13) before switching to 56 when he signed with the Packers last year.

“It’s not my nature to take a number for any reason other than what I’m comfortable with,” Wright said. “Growing up, Julius Peppers was somebody I idolized. That’s the real reason I say I love 90. I wore it in high school. I wore it in college.

“I’d love to wear it in the pros. It was available.”