James Wright has played in 26 games already during his first two seasons at LSU, but he figures to get noticed a lot more this season.
He has been used primarily as a blocking wide receiver, catching just seven passes in his career for 62 yards, and he hasn’t scored a touchdown. Wright joined the Tigers in 2010 from Belle Chasse High and found himself behind Terrence Toliver and Rueben Randle at the “X” position among the receivers. After Toliver’s graduation, Wright was the No. 2 “X” behind Randle last season.
“That’s a lot of talent at the ‘X’ position,” Wright said of his predecessors.
Now that Randle chose to bypass his senior season to join the NFL and was drafted in the first round by the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, Wright is poised to be the No. 1 “X” and see more passes come his way even though “Z” receiver Odell Beckham Jr. figures to be the primary target.
“His first two years, he was behind Rueben Randle, who’s doing great things for the Giants,” quarterback Zach Mettenberger said. “I think it’s finally his opportunity, and I think he’s going to run with it. We’re going to do a lot of things with him that we did with Rueben last season. I think he’s going to make plenty of plays for us.
“He’s our biggest receiver (6-foot-2, 201 pounds). He might not be the biggest receiver in the country, but he’s physical and he’s going to have a lot on his plate.”
Wright might not get as many passes thrown his way as Randle did last season in leading LSU with 53 catches for 917 yards and eight touchdowns, but he figures to get a lot more than he had last year when he caught five passes for 41 yards. Randle’s numbers last season were very similar to Toliver’s the year before: 53 catches, 735 yards, three touchdowns.
“He has really taken to the coaching,” senior wide receiver Russell Shepard said of Wright. “James has played in a lot of games for us over the last two years and played in games at critical times, but he hasn’t really been involved in the passing game. He has really taken a couple of steps — not just one step — in developing his ball skills and route running and getting bigger and really becoming one of the big-time playmakers in this offense this upcoming season.”
Wright estimated that during this preseason camp he has seen “double or triple” the number of passes he saw as a freshman and sophomore.
He said another difference during this camp has been the size of his “comfort zone.” Getting to play in so many games has helped his maturation even though he wasn’t catching many passes.
“Just getting comfortable playing in front of so many people, the atmosphere, the crowd and the noise — all of that experience helps,” Wright said, “just being comfortable with the quarterback and the plays and coverage recognition and all that.”
Wright said each of the receivers “kind of do our own thing.”
Beckham is “the speed guy,” and he and Shepard can play all three positions. Junior Kadron Boone backs up Wright and sophomore Jarvis Landry is the “W” or the next in line when the Tigers use a three-receiver formation.
Wright has held the starting “X” position throughout camp. Though he knows he’ll still be called upon to block quite often, it’s apparent he’ll do more than that.
“I can’t see the future,” Wright said, “but I would expect to be a bigger part of the offense this year judging by the way camp has been going. (The coaches) don’t put a lot of pressure on me as an individual, but they preach to the team that the wideouts have to make plays for our passing game.”
The coaches have said the passing game will be a bigger and bolder part of the offense with Mettenberger than it was with Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, which is more reason why it appears the time has come for Wright to become known for his receiving.
“The light comes on at different times for different people,” Shepard said. “The light has definitely come on for James Wright. He has been one of the most consistent receivers and playmakers on this offense this past spring, summer and in camp. He’s definitely done his part to gain the confidence of the quarterbacks that really allows him to be that big-time ‘X’ for us on the perimeter.
“He’s going to be our Rueben Randle of this year — the big-body receiver to go up and make those tough catches. A lot of times at the position he plays, you’re called on to make plays, and some say it could be the toughest position to play in our offense receiver-wise, but he’s definitely the man for the job.”
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