DAVIE, Fla. -- Questioned Wednesday about his "expectations" for rookie defensive tackle Manuel Wright, the prospect recently selected by the Miami Dolphins in the fifth round of the supplemental draft, head coach Nick Saban stopped just short of seething.
Then he suggested that, to answer the question accurately, he might need to re-enact an old Johnny Carson skit.
"Hey, where's Carnac?" Saban asked, turning to Dolphins senior vice president of media relations Harvey Greene. "Can we get him out here every day?"
Indeed, based on the first few days of camp, Saban might need a turban and a crystal ball to see what is in store from the former Southern California defensive tackle. A noted underachiever at the college level, Wright is certainly off to a rocky start, and he might prove to be every bit as frustrating for Saban as he was for Trojans coach Pete Carroll.
No one expected Wright to ride an immediate path to glory, not given his youth and inconsistency. But when the Dolphins signed Wright to a four-year contract that included a $190,000 signing bonus, the team did not anticipate an early trail of tears and a major pain in the back.
So far, though, that's what Wright has given the Dolphins.
On Tuesday morning, when the rest of the Dolphins took the field dressed for a full-pads practice, Wright exited the locker room in shorts and a T-shirt. That elicited from the head coach an animated, 20-second beat-down that brought tears to the young player's eyes. When Wright, who some scouts felt was too soft to succeed in the NFL, returned to his practice stall later that day, veterans had decorated it with tissues. A box of Kleenex was placed on Wright's chair in the meeting room later on.
Then, on Wednesday, Wright was absent from the morning practice because Saban opted to send him to a specialist to address the rookie's suggestions that he was experiencing back problems that should keep him off the field. Apparently, his alleged back problems were what prompted Wright to take the field in shorts Tuesday, even though the team trainer had deemed him capable of practicing.
Saban has been restrained in addressing the Wright situation, and it is hard to fathom that the Dolphins are giving up already on a prospect with so much raw talent, but clearly the coach is not happy with the way things have transpired early in camp. The Dolphins stuck out their collective neck in choosing Wright, the most talented player in the supplemental draft but certainly an enigma, and if things don't improve, Saban might indeed put the youngster on the chopping block.
What's maddening to the Miami coaches is that Wright clearly has talent. During a Monday evening nine-on-seven drill, he flashed his skills, and was, in the words of one club official "unblockable" for a stretch of three or four snaps. But until he gets locked into Saban's rules, and finds a way to overcome the immaturity that marked his college career, Wright might be a question mark not even Carnac could figure out.
"We have a protocol on how to do things around here," said Saban, alluding to Wright's apparently wrong way of addressing his concerns about his back. "Sometimes the young players don't understand that. I tell the players, 'We're going to help you any way we can to be as successful as you can be.' But when you don't do things the way that you are supposed to do them, we're going to confront you and demand you do it right."
Given the team's need for interior defensive line help -- tackle Tim Bowens retired with chronic back problems; Larry Chester is still battling back from knee surgery; and Keith Traylor isn't yet in shape -- it was thought Wright actually might command significant playing time as a rookie. Based on the first few days, though, Saban and the Dolphins might be forced to essentially grant him a redshirt year.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.