While Virginia may have struggled out of the gate recruiting defensive linemen in 2015, head coach Mike London and company finished strong. The Hoos reeled in several DL commits in the final weeks of the cycle, and the pick of the litter appears to be Georgia defensive end Stephen Wright.
Wright waited until late January to finally end his recruitment. The 6-4, 230-pound defensive end had an impressive offer sheet, but elected to join the Wahoos at nearly the 11th hour.
Ever since Jon Tenuta took over as defensive coordinator, UVa has filled its recruiting classes with defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid type players. Many of Tenuta's recruits are within the 210-225 pound range, thus giving the staff the option to slot them either at linebacker or on the defensive line. Wright however is a defensive lineman through and through, already entering college weighing close to 240 pounds. The Georgia native has good size already for the position, and has the frame to add 10-15 more pounds, without sacrificing much quickness.Wright's six-foot-four stature and impressive wingspan made him a hot commodity on the recruiting trail, and the Wahoos were exciting to reel him in so late in the process.
Last fall, Wright help lead a Ware County defense that surrendered just over 10 points per game. The Gators polished off a perfect 10-0 regular season, despite playing against some of South Georgia's best competition. While at Ware County, Wright received invaluable experience playing in different defensive fronts, and lining up on both the inside and outside. Tenuta enjoys shifting his defensive linemen around in different packages, and Wright comes into the program with a working knowledge of multiple positions and formations.
Let's take a closer look at this intriguing defensive end.
Name: Stephen Wright
High School: Ware County (Waycross, GA)
Ranking: Rivals/ESPN/247 3-star
Recognition: All-Region AAAAA
As seen in his junior highlights above, Wright has a terrific first step, and a great burst off the line of scrimmage. Wright's long wingspan and active hands allows him to get by his opposing blocker with relative ease at times. It's not just his hands however, as Wright knows how to use his entire body to create space and get through the line. Wright's initial quickness allows him to get into position and dip his shoulder to get around the edge.
The former All-Region selection uses his active hands not only for gaining leverage, but for disrupting the passing game as well. A quarterback has very little time to react when under pressure, and the six-foot-four Wright made a living batting down passes and thwarting attempts from the get-go during his high school career.
Wright is not an elite pass rusher, but the incoming first-year has improved tremendously in getting after the quarterback. He does not have top speed off the edges, but Wright's high-motor and aggression allows him to stay with a play, and track down the ball carrier. As seen in the film above, Wright is able to get by on his size alone in most instances, but that will not be the case at the college level. In order to contribute as a college defensive lineman, Wright must improve his overall technique, and be able to mix in several different moves and counters into his arsenal.
While Wright will likely redshirt this fall, it is far from a lock.
UVa is blessed with a trio of seniors at defensive end, in Mike Moore, Kwontie Moore, and Trent Corney. Outside of the aforementioned upperclassmen, no other defensive ends on the team have played in a single game. Virginia's defensive end situation is a little unusual, with no sophomores or juniors on the roster. While the Moore, Moore, and Corney will get the lion's share of the snaps, redshirt freshmen Darrious Carter and Chris Peace are available when needed.
Look for the Hoos to lineup backup defensive tackles Andrew Brown and Andre Miles-Redmond on the outside at times as well. Virginia has enough bodies on the defensive line, but if a freshman were to play, it would almost certainly be Wright.
Wright could use a redshirt year to add size and to learn how to better channel all of his raw athleticism. The Peach State native is an improved pass rusher, but still has a ways to go against the run. Following a year in the strength and conditioning program, Wright could not only be ready to contribute, but could also compete for a starting spot in 2016.