Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles wanted a full test of Darnell Wright’s resilience and grit. In the final stages of the team’s preparation for the draft in April, the Poles were strongly considering using his first first-round pick as NFL general manager on an offensive lineman and had Wright drafted from Tennessee. as the best tackler on the board.
But the Poles wanted Wright to take one more test and flew to Knoxville, Tenn., with Bears offensive line coach Chris Morgan in early April to conduct an intense day of assessment of the Wright’s mental and physical stamina.
The Bears loved what they saw of Wright that day on campus in Tennessee, and three weeks later made him the No. 10 pick in the draft, locking him in as a likely starter for his season. rookie and beyond.
Tennessee offensive line coach Glen Elarbee worked with Wright for two seasons and sees high-end NFL potential for the massive tackle. Elarbee recently sat down with the Tribune to provide some insight into Wright’s game and wiring. Here is that interview, edited for clarity.
Note: This is the last in a series of conversations with the college post coaches of this year’s Bears draft picks.
Seeing the stair climbing Darnell did during the two seasons you were with him, what stood out to you the most about his development when you think about it?
Man, I just think when we got here (in Tennessee), Darnell’s ability to have confidence in himself and see himself succeeding individually and with the guys around him, he just started to take action. It’s not something that happened overnight. He worked on it and was good for us that first spring, then very good in camp and in the season, and the following spring (in 2022) is when he really accelerated. Going into fall camp, you knew he was going to be really, really special with the way he trained, how hard he worked, and the way he understood the game. And then the jumps and the limits that he took mentally were noticeable. It was a cool maturation process to watch.
Mentally, where do you think he’s come furthest?
He just started to understand the whole game. When we were there for the first time, he was taking tests and he could write down what he did and maybe a few other guys. But at the end of his time, he was drawing what the five (offensive linemen) were doing plus tight ends and running backs. All. Suddenly he had the full picture and understood the schemes. Now I think the next step for him will probably be to be able to apply more technique to exactly what he sees. He grew up in this area. But, man, there’s so much more to improve on there and it’s going to be fun to watch.
When we study his career, many people talk about the success he had against Travon Walker in 2021 and then Will Anderson and Alabama last season. What did you learn about Darnell from these tests?
The craziest thing about the game against Will Anderson last season is that the week of, Darnell was like, “Man, I’m going to be good. Do not worry about me. I’m going to overflow with this guy and be all good. He just had faith in himself and he knew what he was going to be able to do. And Darnell is at his best when he has someone really good in front of him. He is almost super competitive and wants to do everything perfectly. And even when something goes wrong and it’s not even his fault, he tears himself apart and almost kicks his game into high gear. He’s pretty special that way.
People in Chicago are still getting to know Darnell. But he feels outside the gates as if carrying himself with understated confidence. Do you consider this to be an accurate description?
I would say yes. As you get to know him, he is one of the best human beings on the planet. Everyone in our room loved him. Everyone who really knows him loves him. Over time, he opens up to you a little more and a little more. But of course, it’s quiet confidence. He knows what he is capable of. One of the ways he has made the most progress is by believing in it. I don’t know if he always fully realized how talented he was, even though everyone always told him that. I think now he kind of figured that out.
What does it tell you about him that he stuck through the turmoil of Tennessee with the NCAA investigation and the coaching change and everything that happened, especially in a time where so many kids rush to the transfer portal when the going gets tough?
Yeah, man, I’m really grateful to him. He gave us a chance when he didn’t need it. We tried to build trust with him, and in the end, you’re talking about an incredibly loyal jerk. Two things that come to mind are, firstly, boules. At a time when a lot of guys, especially as talented as Darnell, might not have been in that bowling game, he wanted to participate. I said, “Hey, ‘Nell, man, are you going bowling?” And he said to me, “Why don’t I go bowling?” He almost looked at me like I was crazy for asking.
And then one of my favorite memories was when we played against Vanderbilt in the last game of the year. It was an eruption and he had already been fired. But then we encountered the wounded. And it hurt my heart to go and grab it to put it back. And I just looked at him and before I could even get the words out of my mouth, he nodded at me and said, “I got you. Let’s go ride. He’s a total team guy, he just wants to be there with the guys, and he’s there for you, especially if he believes in you and trusts you.
The Bears talent evaluators were really drawn to Darnell’s toughness. You put on one strip, then another, then a third and quickly see the edge it plays with. How would you describe that?
For sure. A lot of times, if you’re not watching the tape and you’re just around him in everyday life, he comes across as this big, cuddly teddy bear. Then you throw this tape and it tries to physically inflict pain on you. He is violent in what he does. He has incredible athletic ability, but he can use his hips and transfer all of his power into his blocks and he can absolutely destroy someone like that. Having been as lucky as I was to see someone take (defensive ends) and level them quickly on the road and move them around like he does. And it’s tough too. You’ll never know if he’s in pain because he’ll keep going and in the end you try to pull him out of training and he won’t want to come out. He wants the rehearsals, wants to improve. This is part of his physical strength and tenacity.
When did you learn about the now-famous practice the Bears put him through in Knoxville in April?
Funny enough, that day I was at my son’s soccer and it was raining. So I ran to the establishment to get my umbrella. Jerome (Carvin), who was working there with him, came out and said, “Yeah, man, we just practiced with the Bears and this guy tried to kill him, man.” He was like, “There were chosen words that were said, but they told me not to fire him and try to see if I can break him.” Then Darnell appeared and said to me, “Dude, this guy tried to kill me! But it was fun!” With his upbeat personality, he enjoyed it. He thought it was the greatest thing ever.
Then that night me, Jerome, Cade (Mays) and Darnell all went out to eat and heard more war stories from that 30 minute workout and laughed it off. … I think one of our ops guys was there and ‘Nell might have tried to look at him like, ‘Hey, man. Give me a break here. But it kept rolling. He exposes everything there and that’s why they liked it. You can’t question this guy’s tenacity or effort, that’s for sure.
What area could you focus on and where his transition to the next level will require him to lock in and improve to foster his development?
I think he will continue to improve with his techniques. He was always watching the NFL tape with us and trying new things. And there were times when he saw, yes, that’s when you want to use it, or, no, that’s not a great place to use it. Sometimes I feel like he got bored in training and did things no one else could do just to see what the next step would be. And it was, “When do I try this set?” When to use this punch? When can I use all of these different types of things versus each different type that I’m dealing with? “I think that’s where he will probably have to continue to evolve the most.
He played right and left for you guys. The Bears, ideally, see him slot in at right tackle and stay there. What makes it the most effective on that side?
I don’t think it’s necessarily that he’s most effective right or left. Our first year here he played on the left and then to his selflessness we went to 2022 and before I could even have a conversation with him the two guys who could potentially replace Cade (Mays at right tackle) hadn’t played only on the left. And he came up to me and said, ‘Man, I think for the play it might be better if I go right and give these guys a chance to stay on the left side.’ I said, “Yes, I agree.”
And then he improved there last year. If he had stayed on the left, he would have been just as good on the left. He just got better as a football player. So that’s one thing that’s a bit of a misperception. This guy can play on the left. Absolutely. He just got better. And it gets even better. But it wasn’t about the right side or the left side.
Most NFL people who started falling for him during the pre-draft process point out how much development potential Darnell still has. And he’s only 21. So where do you see that in terms of the skill set and dominance he’s shown while understanding that the potential for growth is still there?
That’s what I kept trying to tell the scouts from the very beginning. There’s a lot of meat on that bone. His first two years in college just didn’t flow, didn’t flow together nicely, didn’t go as smoothly as they could have. Then all of a sudden, the last two years, he started having this huge growth. And he’s still so young as a person and as a football player. He’s just going to keep improving and learning, and where he was two years ago versus where he is now? Now you take him to another camp and at the end of this rookie season, this guy is on his way to being special. He will play for a long time.
The one thing we immediately see when we lay our own eyes on him is what 6-5, 335 looks like. I’m sure you know what we mean.
For real. He is huge. You don’t fully realize it watching the tape because you watch the way it moves. It’s like, there’s no way this guy is as tall as he is. Then you step on him. Great human. Big, big man. And he’s got a big heart, man.