Wright: Playing for the 49ers is 'living my dream'
SANTA CLARA -- Eric Wright grew up with posters of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and other 49ers greats plastered on the walls of his room.
He didn’t just want to play in the NFL when he got older. He wanted to suit up for the team whose stadium was just blocks away from his Hunters Point home. Now a seven-year veteran of the league, the cornerback is as close as he has ever been to fulfilling his childhood ambition after previous NFL stops in Cleveland, Detroit and Tampa Bay.
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“I’m just grateful for this opportunity, to be here playing for my hometown team and playing for such a storied franchise, and pretty much being able to live out my dream,” Wright said Tuesday, moments after he finished his first practice with the 49ers. “I’m happy that I literally just walked off the field and took that gold helmet off.”
Wright was not eligible to practice for the first six weeks after opening the regular season on the reserve/non-football illness list. He received clearance to hit the field on the first day he was allowed. The reason the 49ers placed Wright on NFI has never been explained.
"We are pleased to welcome Eric to the 49ers organization and look forward to his contributions," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement in August after signing Wright to a one-year contract. "Eric is currently tending to a personal matter and he will join the team as soon as possible."
It was a sentiment echoed by coach Jim Harbaugh.
“We’re looking forward to Eric getting back to being the player that he thinks he can be, and we think he can be," Harbaugh said. "That would be a great story for him to be able to do that. It would be great for us if he can get there. We’ll work with him.”
Wright, 28, came to San Francisco after a tumultuous year with Tampa Bay. He signed a five-year, $37 million deal with the Bucs before the 2012 season but quickly fell out of favor with the organization. He served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing drugs and was twice arrested on suspicion of DUI within a 13-month period.
The Bucs attempted to trade Wright to the 49ers this last July, but the deal fell through when he failed a physical. Tampa Bay released him outright which allowed him to sign with any team. He inked a deal with San Francisco on Aug. 8. He finally reported to his new team until Aug. 27.
Wright’s return to the practice field comes after what he believes is his longest time away from the game. He spoke vaguely about the “personal matter” that kept him away.
“I think just all of us, in general, we have personal responsibilities,” Wright said. “We all have families. Not all of us, but we have kids and different things like that. We’re responsible for a lot of things. We’re more than just professional athletes.
“It’s definitely a different experience for me, and I’m just happy in the sense that I am healthy and available now at this point of the season and haven’t endured that beating, so to speak, of playing in the first six games.”
Wright now finds himself working into game shape nearly midway through the season and trying to learn a new defensive system as well.
“It’s definitely different than looking at a piece of paper or looking on film and going through your calls and checks and adjustments rather then being out there on the field playing it and getting the reps,” Wright said. “It’s just a matter of me going out there and repping it out with the guys, talking things out and getting acclimated and adjusted and we’ll take it from there.”
Wright is struck by the chemistry and cohesiveness of the defense and says everyone has had a hand in helping him learn defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s system.
“I think that’s just the beauty of being in a place like this, with a locker room full of guys -- a locker room full of great leadership,” he said. “Everybody has looked to help me learn this defense.”
Wright won’t allow himself to look too far beyond learning that defense. He has no schedule as to when he believes he could be added to the 53-man roster or activated for his first game for what he considers his dream team.
The 49ers currently rank sixth in the NFL in pass defense, allowing just 206.3 yards passing per game with starters Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown, along with Tramaine Brock, who has replaced veteran Nnamdi Asomugha as the third cornerback.
For now, Wright is just taking his football career -- and his life -- one day at a time.
“My timetable and focus is really on tomorrow morning’s meeting and trying to make sure I go into that meeting prepared and trying to make sure I take what I learned in the classroom and bring it out to the field and execute that,” Wright said. “So I’m focused on what’s immediately ahead of me.”