AUBURN, Ala. — When Gabe Wright got to Auburn in 2011, he was given the unenviable task of trying to replace Nick Fairley. Now, Wright will have to do the same thing in the NFL. Fairley left Detroit this offseason to sign with St. Louis.
Then on Saturday, the Lions drafted the former Carver star in the fourth round. Wright was the the 14th pick of the round and the 113th selection overall.
And Detroit liked Wright enough that it traded up to get him. The Lions sent their third-round pick in next year's draft to the Eagles for the chance to take Wright.
"He falls in the mold of what we like our defensive tackles to do," Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said in an interview with reporters after Wright's selection was announced. "That is to penetrate, attack, get off blocks and make plays. He did a really good job of that. (He is) a good player, a good kid, and we are really glad to have him.”
The feeling was mutual.
"Anytime you think of a penetrating and attacking style, and you look at me and you see a guy who likes to jump the ball, jump the count, get off the ball and be the first guy moving, I don’t see a better fit," Wright said in a conference call. "These guys like to get off the ball, they like to tackle, they like to disrupt and cause problems and that’s exactly how I feel my game fits with them."
Though Wright never played with Fairley in college — his predecessor was gone after the 2011 BCS championship game, while Wright didn't arrive until that fall — that didn't matter. Fairley still was able to impart some knowledge upon the then-recent Carver graduate.
"He was still a mentor and a huge tutor to me. He was one of the main guys who told me that naturally people will try to make comparisons and that I just had to come in and be Gabe Wright and that's all I can be," Wright said. "He just tried to clue me in to what it would be like. He had just got done playing and just had one of the best careers ever at Auburn, and I'm an 18-year-old freshman and (he) wanted to let me know the things I'd see on and off the field. How to be respectful and how to act around the team and the city of Auburn. That's definitely something I took to heart."
But following Fairley's footsteps once more wasn't on the forefront of Wright's mind.
"That hasn't even been something I've gave thought to," he said. "It's something that's there, but the main thing is I'm just happy to be with the team."
One thing that Wright was pleased to hear was that his college number, 90, was available, saying he "wouldn't mind it at all" he gets to keep the digits.
Of course, while the easy comparison to make is Wright and Fairley, the Lions also lost another huge piece — literally and figuratively — of their defense this offseason, as fellow lineman Ndamukong Suh signed with the Miami Dolphins as a free agent.
Wright wouldn't make any promises that he would make people forget about either Fairley or Suh. But he believes getting to work alongside free agent signee and longtime NFL veteran Haloti Ngata will help ease the transition to the pros.
"You can't miss a guy like that. I can't even put a number on how many years, but he's put in a lot of years and a lot of hard work and he's definitely been great at what he's able to do," Wright said. "I can't see a better guy to take teachings from. You can always take teachings from great coaches, but you need a guy alongside you who's been there and gone through the same stuff you're going through. I definitely think Haloti will be one of the best tutors for me."