Thursday, August 14, 2014

El Jefe Speaks - Belichick clears up Patriots' competition at safety...sort of

"When he can keep the action in front of him he has the fluidity to react to the play and is a solid tackler.  Where Arrington got in trouble last season was trying to cover taller receivers on the outside, and had a tendency to lose the receiver if he looked back for the ball - resulting in really bad looking long-gainers or pass interference penalties." - Foxborough Free Press, July 12, 2013

Kyle Arrington is nothing if not a figurative punching bag for New England Patriots' fans.

Not even his ever-evolving skill set on the field has spared the Hofstra University product from the venomous fangs of public opinion, yet he continues to persevere.
Arrington (25) is a physical presence in the secondary

How? Well, one of the requisite abilities of a cornerback is to be able to put the last play behind them, either bad or good, and focus on the task at hand, which Arrington does time and again both on and off the field - as he deflects both footballs and poison barbs with the same reserved detachment.

Yes, it is true that he loses either the ball or the receiver with his back to the play, but when he takes his textbook redirection skills to the slot where he adds his strength and uncanny sense of leverage as one of the best run support corners in the league, he is in his element.

So when New England coach Bill Belichick started rotating him with fellow cornerback Logan Ryan and once-removed incumbent enforcer Patrick Chung at the strong safety position in camp, it really isn't that big of a stretch to say that Arrington would probably be just as efficient in the role as the other two, and including penciled-in starter Duron Harmon.

Arrington is part of a confluence of defensive backs that have tried their hand at safety during the past three weeks as Belichick experiments and molds his defense in order to get his best eleven athletes on the field at any given time to match up against any given personnel package from the opposing offense...

...and since it is true that room must be made when big cover corner Brandon Browner returns from his four-game suspension to start the season, it is also true that the person that may be impacted the most in the unit is Arrington.

Browner is a taller version of Arrington in many ways.  His calling card is his stifling jam at the line of scrimmage, excellent length in space and delivering punishing hits - but on the wing he must maintain his jam and hope to disrupt the timing of the play because with his linebacker-ish 4.65 speed he can't afford to lose a step by looking back for the ball.

His lack of speed and penchant for getting handsy with receivers is why he isn't a good candidate for the back end, either, leaving him as either a slot corner, which he excels at, or as the Big Nickle lurking in the middle like a rouge linebacker and looking to batter receivers, whether they catch the ball or not.

Browner is lithe enough to stick with most tight ends, so it could be that the Patriots could run a double slot at times, which is where he could team with Arrington as a violent coverage tandem underneath.

But in listening to Belichick talk, he seems to like the idea of what Arrington could bring to the safety corps, particularly now that he has fully recovered from a torn adductor muscle that the tough-as-nails corner played through the majority of last season.

"I think Kyle has a really good skill set to play anywhere back there." Belichick explained when asked about Arrington being rotated in this week.  "He’s fast, he’s tough, he’s a good tackler, which your safeties need to be. Not that your corners don’t need to be, but I’d say it’s even more important at safety."

"He tackles well, he runs well, he’s a very athletic player." the ball coach continued. "So I’d say his toughness and his tackling are similar to Devin, same type of player who played corner to safety with similar type skills – speed, range, toughness. Those assets you need at safety, and Devin has them and Kyle has them."

Sure sounds like an endorsement, and when considering Arrington's 4.4 speed and all of the traits that he brings to the slot, he very much sounds like a guy that can probably man both safety spots, if need be.

"There’s no way when you start getting into sub defenses where you’re playing five and six defensive backs, you can’t carry 12 defensive backs in a game so everybody has a backup for their position." Belichick detailed. "Somebody has to play multiple positions This is the time of year in training camp where we try to work players at different positions, not to move them but to give ourselves and our team depth so when we get to a 46-man roster we’re able to sufficiently back up everybody."

Belichick had previously moved cornerback Devin McCourty to free safety and Arrington possesses a like-skill set and similar speed, and although McCourty is a sure tackler, Arrington is far more physical and has three years remaining on his current contract while McCourty is working on a contract season.

And that adds another interesting wrinkle to an already heavy cap burden, with shutdown corner Darrelle Revis in line for a massive payday if the Patriots plan on keeping the five-time Pro Bowl selection, but while those things don't belong on the proving grounds, it goes without saying that there is more to the look-see that the corners are getting than just idle curiosity.

For now, however, it is enough to know that Belichick is backing up every position both to avoid the thinning depth issue that the Patriots suffered through last season and also to accommodate the integration of Browner into the lineup when he returns from suspension...

...the inference of which lends itself to the imagination of the virtuoso, who has proven time and again that he can do more with less than any other coach possibly could - so just sit back and ponder what he will be able to do with perhaps the best collection of defensive back talent in the National Football League.

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