TAMPA — Tim Wright didn't expect to find success this quickly in his NFL career.
The undrafted rookie tight end who was converted from receiver has emerged as a favorite target for new Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon, catching seven passes for 91 yards in Sunday's loss to the Eagles.
That's a far different arrival than under coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers, where Wright didn't catch a pass until his fourth year on campus and had only one game to rival what he did Sunday, albeit against the NFL's second-worst pass defense.
"I'm definitely appreciating everything," Wright said. "I'm the same athlete, the same person mentally and physically. It goes back to hard work and dedication at Rutgers and here now."
Wright, 23, grew up in Wall Township, N.J., about 40 miles away from Rutgers. He redshirted his first year in 2008, played sparingly in 2009, then missed 2010 with a torn ACL.
In Schiano's final season, 2011, Wright had 11 catches for 147 yards. But he more than tripled those numbers as a senior. His best game, coincidentally, came at Raymond James Stadium, where he had eight catches for 125 yards in a win against USF.
Wright always had good size at 6 feet 4, and this spring, coaches moved him to tight end. He has added about 15 pounds to his frame, but Schiano said the position suits Wright's toughness as much as his body type.
"To be able to make that move, the guy's got to be tough enough to block in the run game, and that's one thing Tim is," Schiano said. "He's 230; not the biggest guy in the world, but he's ample. He definitely has a place if he can continue to catch the football and run his routes the way he does. He definitely can block well enough to run the ball. That makes him a two-dimensional tight end."
Wright has made the most of an unexpected opportunity with injuries taking away the Bucs' top three options at tight end. Luke Stocker and Nate Byham are on injured reserve, and Tom Crabtree missed the first four games with an ankle injury and still seeks his first catch.
That said, the Bucs saw enough in Wright in August to keep him. He said his approach hasn't changed since he was a hungry long shot trying to make the first round of cuts.
"Though I was fourth string, fifth string at the beginning of the year, I prepared as a starter," said Wright, who signed with the Bucs after the draft because of the familiarity of Schiano and tight ends coach Brian Angelichio, a Rutgers assistant in 2011.
This year's draft saw 16 tight ends drafted. Only three have more receiving yards than Wright's 138 (one also has 138) and none more than his 132 over the past two games. Wright's arrival as a receiving threat has coincided with Glennon stepping in as the starter.
The two connected five times against Arizona on Sept. 29, building on a chemistry that started during rookie minicamps and continued through training camp, two backups whose practice reps often matched up.
"As a quarterback, you love when your tight end can do what he does because it creates a little mismatch problem," Glennon said. "He's been playing really well lately, and I think he'll continue to develop as he gets more reps as a tight end."
The Bucs used only two draft picks on offensive players, so Wright got to know Glennon in minicamps and even on their own, working together to learn the offense. "We came in together, spent a lot of time together in the offseason … getting that timing down, that connection," Wright said. "You never thought down the line that we'd be the two hooking up together at this point, but it happened."
Having spent four seasons with Schiano at Rutgers, Wright has a better appreciation for the success he built there and patience through the difficulty the Bucs have had in an 0-5 start.
"When he first got there, they weren't winning anything. But he was able to handle the adversity and get the team to bowl game after bowl game year after year," Wright said. "I think he can get it done. He can get everyone to rally around everything he's preaching, and I think we'll be all right."
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected]