AUBURN, Ala. — It started off as an experiment. In certain situations, Gabe Wright would move from his natural position — defensive tackle — outside to defensive end. But thanks to the injuries piling up on the perimeter of the line this spring, Wright started seeing more and more time at end. And in the first two weeks of fall camp, he was receiving reps at end constantly.
Earlier this week, however, that started to change.
Regardless of how many snaps he sees at end this season, that's not how he views himself — and his position coach feels the same way.
"(Defensive line) Coach (Rodney Garner) wants to emphasize that I am still a defensive tackle," Wright said. "But defensive end has been fun. Like I said in the past, I appreciate his confidence in me to be able to play both positions. There are times where I'll go in with one group, and then we'll go with another team, and he'll jump me right at D-tackle. I'm amazed that I remember some of the plays."
The increased time he's seen at end coincides with the incredible weight loss he's had since arriving on campus in 2011. At one point, he tipped the scales at 320 pounds. As of Friday night, Wright said he now weighs in at 291 pounds.
After getting down to as low as 284 pounds, Wright believes he's found a happy medium.
"I've been wanting to drop down body weight since I've been here — and body fat — which has been done," Wright said.
He also shrugs off any praise. Earlier this month, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said Wright may not only be Auburn's best tackle; he could be the best end, too.
But the Carver alum thinks that argument could be made for multiple linemen on the team.
"There's no doubt in my mind, some of these other guys, Elijah (Daniel), or Angelo (Blackson), they could be right in the top tiers of tackles," Wright said. "I'm definitely not alone in being the best tackle or best defensive end. I'm definitely in a big group on that defensive line."
That doesn't mean he's folding his own expectations into those of the team, though. A look at his individual numbers last season would have many pointing to it as a "breakout" campaign, as he set career-highs for total tackles (31), tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (three).
Wright doesn't believe he's even scratched the surface of his potential entering his senior campaign.
"Was last year good? No doubt. I appreciate 'Coach G' (Garner) because though I had the best year I've ever had, he still treats me as though I'm down here," Wright said, moving his hand just a few inches off the ground to illustrate his point. "It's easy for me to say this, because I really think that's what makes him a good coach — his drive, his push, the way he can affect you mentally to bring that out of you. ... So there's no doubt that with his push and the involvement of my teammates, my level is going to improve and so will the rest of the D-line."
And in another moment of candidness from a player known to speak his mind, Wright admitted he feels "pressure" to perform.
Yes, he wants the team to do every bit as good as 2013, when it went 12-2 and won the SEC championship — and came within 13 seconds of a national title.
If he doesn't play up to his own expectations, though, Wright would be disappointed in himself.
"I still feel like there is room for improvement for myself, so as far as me and my confidence, yes, there's some things that I want to get done," he said. "I don't have to state those things publicly for me to feel better in that area, but inside myself, yes, I know if I had a good year last year. (But) I definitely want to be better."