New Carolina Panthers wide receiver Jarius Wright is many things. Son of an Arkansas state trooper and a schoolteacher. Father to a 9-year-old daughter. A fast, 28-year-old NFL veteran who says not only has he not lost a step but that he has “probably gotten more explosive” over the years.
Most importantly for the Panthers’ purposes, though, is this nugget: “I feel I could teach Norv Turner’s offense to a baby,” Wright says.
Wright says this as we are speaking on the phone shortly after he has finished a Panthers workout. He doesn’t sound boastful — more matter-of-fact.
Wright spent 2 ½ years in Turner’s offense at Minnesota — a time that coincided with the best seasons of Wright’s career. It is no coincidence that Carolina has now brought Wright in to compete for the slot receiver job. Not only does he know the language of Turner’s offense himself, but he will also be valuable teaching it to young players such as Curtis Samuel, Damiere Byrd and first-round draft pick D.J. Moore.
“I know every aspect of it,” Wright says of Turner’s offense. “I know how he wants everything run. If Norv forgets something, he can just come ask me.”
Turner was brought in to revive a stagnant Panthers offense that has finished 19th in total yardage each of the past two seasons under former offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who was fired. Turner’s most important job is to get quarterback Cam Newton playing well, and that goes hand in hand with giving Newton enough targets to allow him to throw the ball more quickly and confidently.
Wright is only one of several new pieces in that equation — the Panthers also traded for Torrey Smith and drafted both tight end Ian Thomas and Moore, who may well supplant Wright as Carolina’s top slot receiver at some point.
Says Panthers general manager Marty Hurney of why the Panthers signed Wright in the first place: “Jarius has a knack at getting open. He has very good hands. He can play the slot and knows Norv Turner’s offense. He should provide a very steadying influence for us.”
'Norv has always looked out for me'
Wright and I spoke by phone the day before Moore was picked at No. 24 overall, but by then he already assumed Carolina was going to take a rookie wide receiver high in the draft and said it didn’t matter to him who it was.
“I don’t think that will affect me at all,” Wright says. “I’m all about competition. It brings out the best in players. So I’m always ready to go out there and compete. Where I’m from, nothing is given.”
Wright is from Warren, Arkansas, a town of about 6,000 people.
“It’s a very small town,” Wright says. “A country town. A lot of chickens and cows where I come from.”
His mother taught elementary school. His father, Wright says, “was an Arkansas state trooper for 35 years and also was in the Army Reserve.”
Was he intimidating? Did he do the whole mirrored-sunglasses and slow-walk-to-the-car thing?
“Oh, no,” Wright says, laughing. “Everybody always said they loved getting stopped by my dad.”
Wright stuck close to home for college, going to Arkansas, and then was a fourth-round draft pick of Minnesota in 2012. He was always a complementary part with the Vikings, as he will be in Carolina. His career highs for receptions (42) and receiving yards (588) both came in Turner’s offense in 2014.
“Norv has always looked out for me,” Wright says. “When I needed someone to lean on, he took real good care of me. I guess you could say I kind of mastered his offense. And when it was time for contract negotiations in Minnesota, he was one of the guys who helped me get paid.”
A new No. 13 at wideout
Turner abruptly left the Vikings in the middle of the 2016 season, resigning over philosophical differences. Wright never made much impact after that, having the worst two years of his career in 2016 (11 catches) and 2017 (18 catches) while also seeing his playing time diminish. The Vikings released him in a salary-cap move in March and Carolina snapped him up soon afterward, giving him a three-year, $7.5-million deal.
While Wright believes he could play outside, he has been a slot receiver for most of his career. That’s what he prefers, as the Panthers hope the 5-foot-10 receiver could fulfill the sort of role that Ricky Proehl and Jerricho Cotchery have for the team over the years.
“One of my favorite things about slot is I most likely get to go against the third-best corner,” Wright says. “So there’s a chance to get mismatches on that third corner.”
For the Panthers, Wright will wear No. 13 — fans will remember Kelvin Benjamin wore it for years for Carolina before getting traded. But Wright is a far different receiver than Benjamin — much smaller but also faster.
“I’m really enjoying catching the ball in practice from Cam,” Wright says, “after only seeing him on TV before. It’s so good to have a big quarterback who can stand in there and deliver a big ball. I like to think of myself as a crafty vet. I hope I can really help the team and really help Cam, too.”