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Alex Wright eager to show growth in possible elevated role in Week 4

Wright could see his biggest role yet with the Browns in Atlanta due to injuries to Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney


Alex Wright has needed to learn quickly what it takes to be prepared, calm and effective in the NFL.

A rookie third-round pick from UAB, Wright's snap count has increased in each of the first three games of the season, and he could see his biggest role yet in Week 4 against the Falcons following injuries to Pro Bowl starters Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, who were both ruled questionable for Sunday.

A month ago, such an opportunity might've made Wright's heart skip a beat. He's 22 and felt as young and inexperienced as his age suggests — he had only played once in an NFL stadium before the Browns' first preseason game in Jacksonville.

Now, he has three regular season games under him and is ready to make the most of a huge opportunity in his fourth game.

"The experience has helped me a lot because I didn't get the chance to play at this kind of speed before," Wright said at his locker Thursday. "It's helped me out, and it comes with calming my nerves and stuff like that. There's going to be bigger guys, stronger guys, so I know what I'm going up against now."

Check out photos of players and coaches working to prepare for the teams regular season game against the Atlanta Falcons

Wright has totaled four tackles and two pass breakups in the first three games of his first season. As most rookies usually do in their first months in the league, Wright has leaned on the top veteran in his room, Garrett, to help him acclimate to the increased speeds of the game and build confidence in his moves, a step not always easy to take for a player who was drafted from a Group of 5 school rather than Power 5.

Garrett might miss his first game of the season Sunday after he suffered injuries in a car accident Monday. He avoided any major injuries and returned to the building Thursday but could still miss Sunday's game.

Wright texted Garrett after hearing of the car accident and was relieved to see him back in the locker room in the same week.

"It was real scary," Wright said. "I was just laying down and scrolling, and then I saw it. I was asking around about the accident, and then when we heard he was OK, I texted him instantly. Just said 'Glad you're OK,' and he said 'Thank you, bro.' I was just checking in. That's somebody I look up to. He's someone I've been close with since I got here."

From the day he was drafted, Wright aspired to learn as much as he could from Garrett. He's received several tips on the importance of a strong first move once the ball is snapped, the proper hand placement to maneuver around a defender and how to keep the shoulders low to maintain leverage against a blocker — a speciality of Garrett's, who excels at bending around blockers with ease.

Wright already studied Garrett before he was drafted to the Browns, but watching him in practice and seeing him in games has grown his appreciation for how simple he makes edge disruption look.

"It's an emphasis on power," Wright said. "I focus on his power, his hand placement and him running his feet, the pad level he tries to use and then what he does afterwards, whether it's a slide-off or certain stuff that he does. It's using pressure against pressure when it comes to a tackle. Those are the things I try to look at really closely because he makes it look easy sometimes."

Before Wright could begin to implement some of the pointers he learned from Garrett, he had to first feel comfortable just being in an NFL stadium.

He had only played in one once before he was drafted at the Caesars Superdome, home of the Saints, in 2019 when the Blazers were selected for the New Orleans Bowl. The biggest stadium experience he recalled before his Browns career was when he played at Tennessee's Neyland Stadium in 2019. 

Wright said he was "a wreck" when he stepped onto the field at TIAA Bank Stadium in Jacksonville in the first preseason game. He still feels nervous before most games, but he knows he'll be able to block out the butterflies as soon as the action begins.

"At the end of the day, I'm just playing football," he said. "I've been doing this since I was a kid. I don't think of it as nerve-wracking anymore when I'm in a new stadium and new environment. I get that all in during warmups, and as soon as we run out and the ball is kicked off, that's when I'm locked in and focused."

An Elba, Alabama, native, Wright had also never attended an NFL game as a fan. The closest NFL home to him was three hours and 30 minutes away at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, where he'll play this weekend and plans to have a dozen or so family members in attendance.

Wright hopes to show them how far he's come in a short time with the Browns — the nerves are gone, and the experience has risen.

"I'm not all the way there yet, but I feel like (the game) has slowed down for me," he said. "I just keep getting better every day and coming in with the mindset of focusing on the things I struggle on and improving on the good things I already do."

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