LAKE FOREST — Darnell Wright traveled to Alabama in early February to compete in the Senior Bowl and catch the eyes of NFL coaches, scouts and general managers.
It was safe to say it was an important week for the offensive tackle out of Tennessee.
But Wright didn’t let the pressure get to him.
Instead he used the Senior Bowl as an opportunity to show NFL personnel the kind of person he is and what he brings to the table.
“I think the main thing I set out to prove it was kind of just like, not necessarily prove, but just let them get to know me in my natural habitat,” Wright said at Halas Hall on Friday, one day after being selected 10th overall in the 2023 NFL Draft. “They can come to practice. They don’t really get to come to the meeting room. They only get a glimpse of what is going on at practice. But they get to see what I would be like in a real setting. I guess I was trying not to prove anything but just show them my natural self.”
Wright’s coach on the American team at the Senior Bowl was Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, who liked what he saw from the Tennessee tackle.
But Getsy wasn’t the only person who was left impressed. At the end of the week, the defensive linemen and linebackers for the American team voted Wright as the American Team Practice Player-of-the-Week.
The 6-foot-5, 335-pound offensive tackle took care of business on the field and also left a lasting impression on his future coach.
“(Getsy) loves him,” Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles said in his Thursday night press conference. “You could see, when you’re up close to him, you can feel the power, you can feel the size, the anchor,”
“When guys try to really press on him … when you’re looking at offensive linemen, you want clean hands. And he’s got some technique to work on—all of them do—but the one thing that I look for is if you miss with your hands and you’re technique’s a little bit off on a certain play and you still have the ability to anchor up—you can win when you’re wrong—that just shows you what he’s got on his body. So if we can clean those little details up—hand usage, angles, things like that, pad level—we think the sky’s the limit for him.”
An important workout in Knoxville
The Bears liked what they saw out of Wright at the Senior Bowl, but they still wanted to see more. So on the Saturday before Easter, general manager Ryan Poles and offensive line coach Chris Morgan flew down to Knoxville, Tenn., to meet with Wright.
First, Poles and Morgan put Wright on the whiteboard to have him go through different run and pass concepts and to regurgitate the plays and teach it back to them.
“We really talked about details,” Poles said. “Very detailed in terms of, what’s your aiming point? What do we do if things change, the front changes, the linebackers move? And he showed the ability to adapt and learn really, really fast, which was good.”
After testing Wright’s attention to detail and recall on the whiteboard, the Bears put Wright through an intense hour-long workout. One that was designed to push the 21 year old to his limit. Wright worked through everything from high speed conditioning drills to quickly adjusting to whatever play Morgan would call.
“There’s a mental toughness that you have to have to play this game,” Poles said on Thursday. “With him, I kind of joked around, we brought him in deep water to see if he could swim or not, and he accepted the challenge and he showed us the grit and the mental toughness to be able to fight through fatigue and all of those things that we look for. So it was a really good experience from start to finish, a guy that we were comfortable with as being the top tackle in the draft, so we’re pumped about that.”
Wright’s resilient nature
Wright understood why the practice was so grueling and intensive. But at no point was quitting an option. It’s not in his makeup as a player or as a person.
When Tennessee was investigated for illegal recruiting, which led to coach Jeremy Pruitt being fired and plenty of players transferring to different schools, Wright stayed despite all the turnover at the program.
“Coaches were getting fired. There was a certain point where there weren’t even coaches in the building,” Wright said. “We just had to keep the main thing, the main thing. Going in there working out by myself. Just trying to handle my business as a professional. Knowing the things that I could control and knowing the things I can’t control. I can’t control coaches not being there, but I can control my approach to every day. That was what I kind of did.
“To answer your second question about why I stayed, I just felt like everyone has different reasons, everyone has different family situations and whatever the case may be. For my situation, I had guys there that I had grew bonds with and I felt like there was no reason for me to leave. I can be my best here, I can do my best here. So that was just the main choice.”
And Wright was right. He went on to have a fantastic senior season at Tennessee. He played in 13 games and didn’t allow a sack all season despite facing six defensive players that went in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Alabama’s Will Anderson (No. 3)
Georgia’s Jalen Carter (No. 9)
Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey (No. 19)
Clemson’s Myles Murphy (No. 28)
Clemson’s Bryan Bresee (No. 29)
Georgia’s Nolan Smith (No. 30)
The Bears ended up trading down one spot with the Eagles, who took Carter, and made Wright the second offensive tackle taken with the 10th overall pick in the draft.
The Huntington, W.VA., native — who enjoys fishing, riding dirt bikes and four wheelers and playing video games — now will be in Chicago. And he will have an important role in helping the Bears’ offense take major strides in 2023.
That starts with keeping third-year quarterback Justin Fields upright. For Wright, he is looking forward to doing whatever he can to help out his new quarterback.
In Wright’s introductory Zoom press conference, he started it off by saying he was in shock. It wasn’t the fact that he was drafted in the top 10 or anything along those lines. In fact, where he would be drafted didn’t even cross his mind while he was going through the draft process.
“I don’t know that I ever really一 you don’t ever really think of it like that,” Wright said. “You just think, ‘Man I have a lot of potential and I have a lot of stuff I need to get better at, as well.’ You just start chasing that as fast as you can and you never really know how far that’s going to take you. But as long as you’re chasing it, I don’t think you ever really catch it. Especially, like I think for somebody like myself, the potential that I have, I don’t know what that is. You’ve seen it out there the past couple of years, but I don’t know, it’s going to be fun to see.”
It will be fun to see the impact Wright makes in his rookie season with the Bears. And even though nothing is guaranteed in this league, the one thing that is for certain is that Wright has the right attitude and mentality that can lead to a successful career.
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