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Scooby Wright sees Arizona Cardinals as ‘a good opportunity’

Cleveland Browns linebacker Scooby Wright III puts on his helmet during practice at the NFL football team's training camp facility, Wednesday, June 1, 2016, in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

TEMPE, Ariz. — For Scooby Wright, it might be a case of better late than never.

Signed by the Arizona Cardinals off of the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad on Tuesday, the former University of Arizona Wildcat not only thought he was going to stay in the desert, but wanted to as well.

“It was kind of funny,” Wright said, recalling a conversation he had with Cardinals coach Bruce Arians in the later stages of the NFL Draft. In May, Arians said he was on the phone “begging” Wright to come to Arizona as an undrafted free agent.

“It was around, I think there was like five picks, somewhere in the draft, and I was talking to a few teams,” Wright continued. “I was on the phone with Coach Arians and I hung up the phone, was talking to my parents, saying I wanted to go to the Cardinals, this and that.

“I was about to call Coach Arians back, and as I was unlocking my phone, a Berea Ohio number comes up, and it was Sashi Brown, Cleveland Browns, ‘We just drafted you.’ That was kind of that.”

Wright, who made waves by celebrating his selection with a leap into a pool, was a seventh-round pick, the 250th selection overall. He admitted it would have been nice to be in Arizona with better weather, but was excited to land with an NFL team.

There were doubts.

Though Wright had one of the greatest college seasons a linebacker could ever have in 2014, when he finished with 163 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and six forced fumbles while winning the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Rotary Lombardi Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year honor. However, foot and knee injuries limited him to just three games in 2015, and his lack of prototypical size and athleticism at 6-foot and 240 pounds led to questions about his ability to play in the NFL.

While his production — when healthy — was unmatched, there were legitimate questions about whether or not his talent would translate at the next level.

Wright appeared in four preseason games for the Browns, notching eight tackles and one sack, including an excellent stuff on a fourth-and-goal run by the Chicago Bears. He made the team out of training camp, but was inactive for the first two games and then released before the Browns brought him back to their practice squad.

There Wright remained, until the Cardinals, in need of linebacker help after suffering some injuries at the position, came calling.

“He loves to play the game, and I love guys that love to play the game,” Arians said of why they signed Wright. “We’ll try to find a role on special teams as fast as we can for him and let him pick up the linebacker stuff. He’s a pretty bright and intense guy, so it shouldn’t take him long.”

For Wright, joining the Cardinals was “a good opportunity,” and he said though he did not play any special teams prior to the NFL, he has since learned and would be able to handle the role if called upon.

That newfound ability is a positive that came out of a difficult situation with a team that has yet to win a game this season.

“It was definitely tough, just being in that morale every single day, just kind of keep pushing forward and have to keep persevering every day,” Wright said. “Because it’s kind of tough when you’re 0-13 and can’t really do much about it.”

The Cardinals, at 5-7-1, are also having a disappointing season, but in them Wright sees an opportunity to further establish himself as an NFL player. He found out the team was interested when he left a yoga class and had about 10 missed calls from his agent, Drew Rosenhaus.

“I thought I was getting punked at first,” he admitted.

Wright said he received a text from Matt Dudek, the recruiting coordinator for the UA, who is fired up about his return to the state he once called home.

Compared to when he last played in Arizona, Wright said he was out of shape in college at about 259 pounds, and now is in the 238-240 range. He feels back to normal now, and at the same time more comfortable playing the NFL kind of game.

“It’s more downhill, it’s more gap-scheme, because in the Pac-12 it was so open, zone-read and all that stuff,” he said. “It’s fun.”

Going forward, there is no guarantee Wright will stick, though these next few weeks offer the linebacker a chance to show the Cardinals what he is capable of. He knows he must earn his spot, and will do whatever the coaches ask.

“This is the NFL, your job can be taken any time, you can get cut,” he said. “I experienced that when I was in Cleveland, so I kind of have that mentality where you’ve got to come in every day, handle your business and take care of it.”

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