Receiver Kendall Wright healthy, showing his value to Titans
FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2016, file photo, Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kendall Wright makes a catch in front of Houston Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye (21) during the second half of an NFL football game in Houston. While his injured hamstring cost him all of the preseason and the first three games of the season, the fifth-year receiver is coming off one of the best performances of his career with the Colts coming in Sunday. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith, File)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Kendall Wright's teammates kept welcoming him back as he caught pass after pass. The Tennessee Titans wide receiver insists he never left.
Maybe not, but his injured hamstring cost him all of the preseason and the first three games of the season.
Wright made it clear he's healthy now, catching eight of nine passes thrown to him for 133 yards in last week's 28-26 win over Cleveland, the second-best performance of his career.
''It feels good,'' Wright said. ''Just going out there whenever my number is called and if Marcus (Mariota) throws me the ball, I've got to be ready to make a play.''
That is what the Titans hoped for when drafting Wright with the 20th overall pick in 2012 out of Baylor. He looked exactly like the wide receiver this franchise has been searching for since moving to Tennessee in 1997 in 2013 with 94 catches for 1,079 yards. Then injuries kept him out of two games in 2014 and six in 2015 when he caught a career-low 36 passes for 408 yards.
Now the 5-foot-10 receiver is in the final year of his contract with the general manager who drafted him fired in January. Mike Mularkey is his third head coach, and Wright is working with yet another offensive coordinator in Terry Robiskie and a new wide receivers coach in Bob Bratkowski.
The Titans signed Rishard Matthews in free agency and drafted Tajae Sharpe in the fifth round in April. They also signed veteran Andre Johnson at the start of training camp. When Wright hurt his left hamstring Aug. 2, he already had been shuffled out of the starting rotation in favor of Matthews and Sharpe.
He aggravated his hamstring again Aug. 29 . By the time Wright finally returned, Robiskie had made it pretty clear he couldn't judge Wright because he simply hadn't seen enough of the wide receiver and what he had seen looked rusty.
Wright started his first game Oct. 2 in a loss at Houston. Then he posted the fifth 100-yard receiving game of his career last week against Cleveland, just shy of the 150 yards receiving Wright had Dec. 15, 2013, against Arizona. His big play came on a 48-yard pass from Mariota, something Mularkey and Robiskie spent time with Wright last week making clear what they wanted.
The coaches didn't want Wright slowing down or turning to look back for the ball, simply run under it after Wright and Mariota just missed connecting in practice last week. In the game, Wright wound up having to stretch out for the ball before getting into the end zone.
''I didn't want to come in meetings and Terry be all over me about not running,'' Wright said.
Not that it bothers Wright hearing from Robiskie.
''I don't really want him to lay off of me,'' Wright said. ''I mean I have a lot of room to get better with what I am doing. The more he stays on me, the more I go out there and work at it, work to do everything better. He can stay on me all he wants. I am cool with it.''
The Titans (3-3) now hope that Wright can help ease the double teams tight end Delanie Walker has received this season after he caught 94 passes for 1,088 yards last season. The Titans host Indianapolis (2-4) on Sunday.
''If you can start having some guys be productive in other areas, then it's hard to cover one guy and take one guy out of the game,'' Mularkey said.
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