Last year was rough for Arizona Wildcats and Cardinals fans alike. Both teams fell short of expectations as the Wildcats struggled on defense and Cardinals failed to execute on special teams.
As the 2017 Cardinals Mini-camp wraps up, it seems as though one player remains the answer to each team’s problems. Scooby Wright.
The season was also hard on said player, who was one of the best linebackers to ever suit up for the Wildcats. Philip “Scooby” Wright III had a historical sophomore season as a versatile linebacker for the Wildcats back in 2014, racking up 163 tackles including 29 for loss and 14 sacks.
His impact on the gridiron was good enough to earn accolades such as Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, a Unanimous All-American selection, and ninth place in Heisman Trophy voting. Here are some highlights of the former Two-Star recruit’s historic season to jog your memory:
An injury-plagued junior season limited Scooby’s playing time the following year, causing his draft stock to plummet. He still elected to leave school early and declare for the NFL draft in a memorable and emotional announcement following a defensive MVP performance in the 2015 Gildan New Mexico Bowl. The performance was one of many examples of how vital Wright was for the Cats on defense as they struggled mightily without him this past season.
A poor showing at the NFL combine, namely “stiff hips” and a 4.90 40-yard dash time further dropped his draft stock, but Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim were still interested in picking up the Windsor, CA native.
Scooby ultimately fell to the 7th round of the 2015 NFL Draft to the Cleveland Browns at pick number 250 out of 253, giving him a new chip on his shoulder. Arians has stated that the Cardinals were waiting for the draft to conclude so that they could sign him as an undrafted free agent, but the Browns took a chance on him before cutting him loose during the season.
And now, the Cardinals finally have their man. The Cards picked Scooby up for special teams help during the last three games of the 2016 season. Wright did not disappoint on kickoff coverage, providing some great plays for a player who hadn’t taken reps on special teams in years. Now with his first Cardinals mini-camp` under his belt, Scooby may have found his home in the NFL.
Former Steelers linebacker and current Cardinals ILB coach Larry Foote was originally one of Wright’s biggest critics. But after receiving reps at the position due to an injury to safety-turned-ILB Deone Bucannon, Wright has turned some heads and changed the opinions of Cardinals personnel. Foote told Wright following his return to Arizona “Ooh, I had you wrong,” after seeing Scooby move in person on a football field.
His overall performance in mini-camp alone has boosted his chances to make the team as a key contributor on special teams coverage. According to AZCentral’s Kent Sommers, Arians himself has stated,
"“He’s a football player… He’s dynamite in coverage. He got to where the guys were watching him cover. That’s always a fun thing, when the sideline says, ‘Hey, let’s watch Scooby.’ And he’d go down and blow some stuff up.”"
The Cardinals are probably not terribly concerned about their current situation at inside linebacker. They’re coming off an offseason where they’ve signed Karlos Dansby to his third stint with the team while also drafting highly touted prospect by way of Temple University, Haason Reddick. That being said, defensive depth is vital in this league and Wildcats are quite familiar with Scooby’s defensive prowess.
While his frame at 6’0” 240lbs doesn’t suggest that he can play much outside of ILB, he has lined up on the outside as a pass rusher during his days as a Cat, using sheer will and determination to beat lineman on his way to the quarterback. The NFL is a different beast, but I believe that Scooby is a different animal in his own right. Maybe he’s no Honey Badger, but he very well could be Arizona’s Tasmanian Devil. Either way, this former Cat will continue to make us all very proud.