Arrington turns the corner for Patriots

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Arrington turns the corner for Patriots

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Try to find someone who predicted New England to be 11-2 through fourteen weeks. Won't be easy.

Perceived weakness in the secondary was just one reason why external expectations weren't high for this Patriots team. Hell, it wasn't speculation, it was written in the player biographies. Youth. Inexperience. Not seasoned enough to hold that last line of defense.

Especially when 29-year old Leigh Bodden hit the season-ending IR list in late August and it looked as if sophomore Darius Butler would start at corner across from freshman Devin McCourty. Next on the depth chart came a pair of third-year players, Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley.

What about Kyle Arrington?

Arrington wasn't any older than most of his secondary partners -- this is his third year in the NFL -- but he was even more unseasoned. An undrafted free agent, he bounced from the Eagles' practice squad to the Bucs' practice squad to the Patriots' practice squad and got into nine games, total, in 2008 and '09. He was seen as a special teamer, at best.

My, how things have changed.

Butler fell off the map. Wilhite's body refused tocooperate with his or the team's wishes and, just Wednesday, he was placed on IR. Wheatley (or what's left of him) is in Jacksonville.

Arrington? He's first on the depth chart at left corner for those 11-2 New England Patriots.

And it's not a case of any old port in a storm. He's busted his tail to earn the job.

"He's a great athlete,'' teammate Rob Ninkovich said before practice on Wednesday. "He's got great skills as a corner. He just needed a chance. Sometimes, being a free agent, it takes a while for you to get that chance. But he's made the best of his opportunities.''

Coach Bill Belichick said the same about Arrington seizing the moment.

"Kyle works hard," said Belichick. "He did a good job for us last year on special teams; lead in tackles. He has been very productive. He's got good speed, he's tough, he tackles well, he's aggressive. He's gotten an opportunity and he's done a good job taking advantage of it."

He had to. Arrington knows he wasn't supposed to be a starter. The progression of afterthought to first-string has involved extreme discipline and commitment from Arrington, and he's given his all.

"I've had more dedication off the field, especially in the film room and being at home," he said. "Just paying more attention to details, a higher concentration level during practice. This is a tremendous opportunity that not everybody gets and I'm just trying to take more advantage of it.''

There's that word again: Opportunity. People use it when talking about the 24-year old almost as much as he says it himself. One thing, though: Don't confuse it for luck. When a person delivers after being given a chance, it's not because Fate is a Patriots fan or has a soft spot for Hofstra alumni like Arrington.

It's because of things like Bullet Squats.

Imagine this, his leg exercise of choice: The 5-foot-10 (a generous listing), 196-pounder stands on a bench with one foot. He holds dumbbells in each hand. Does 10 reps. Arrington was working with 40 pounds in each hand last week, 60 pounds in each hand during the offseason.

It's punishing, but it's the reason he has 2.9 percent body fat. It's why Belichick points specifically to the undersized Arrington's strength. And it's also why the guy is breaking up passes to 6-foot-3 Braylon Edwards on Monday Night Football instead of getting pushed around.

"He's very strong for his size, he's a strong guy,'' Ninkovich said. "He can rush -- he's been rushing for us. He's got a great center of gravity where he can bend the corner."

There have been results. New England ranks 27th in defense this season, but that number hides a few important others. The secondary is still making plays out there. Opponent passing yardage is improved significantly this season since Week 10:

NET PASSING YARDS
QB RATINGat Steelers
38797.9vs. Colts
39696.3at Lions
28565.9vs. Jets
14927.8at Bears
13832.9

New England's 20 interceptions are second-best in the NFL and is the best total for a Patriots defense since 2007 (19). Arrington has zero, but when quarterbacks have chosen to throw to the other side McCourty has nabbed 6. And tackles? Arrington's 48 are the fourth highest tally on the team.

No surprise McCourty is the one getting big press. His tremendous play week-in and week-out has thrust him into the national spotlight in the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation. The attention given to Arrington is a pittance by contrast.

It doesn't bother him, though. He's just happy for the playing time.

"He's kind of a quiet guy,'' Ninkovich said. "He's not going to say too much but he's very competitive on the field. A quiet personality but he's aggressive in a sense of, when he's on the field, he's a different person."

When told that his teammate went on to call him "quietly" competitive, Arrington smiled.

"That's perfect. I'm not the obviously most vocal person and everyone knows that. So, quietly competitive . . . that's a good way to put that.''

He paused for a moment. Then he found his focus and smiled again.

"But I will compete."

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe

The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.

“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”

Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.

Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.

“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL


Tom Brady delivered a video message last week at the funeral of Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, a Maine native and former UConn track athlete killed in Somalia on May 5.

Bill Speros of The Boston Herald, in a column this Memorial Day weekend, wrote about Milliken and Brady's message.   

Milliken ran track at Cheverus High School in Falmouth, Maine, and at UConn, where he graduated in 2001. Milliken lived in Virginia Beach, Va., with his wife, Erin, and two children.  He other Navy SEALs participated in a training exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011 where he met and posed for pictures with Brady.

Speros wrote that at Milliken’s funeral in Virginia Beach, Va., Brady's video offered condolences and thanked Milliken’s family for its sacrifice and spoke of how Milliken was considered a “glue guy” by UConn track coach Greg Roy.

Milliken had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning four Bronze Star Medals and was based in Virginia since 2004.  He was killed in a nighttime firefight with Al-Shabaab militants near Barij, about 40 miles from the Somali capital of Mogadishu. He was 38.

The Pentagon said Milliken was the first American serviceman killed in combat in Somalia since the "Black Hawk Down" battle that killed 18 Americans in 1993. 

In a statement to the Herald, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said: “It was an honor to host Kyle and his team for an exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011. It gave new meaning to the stadium being known as home of the Patriots. We were deeply saddened to hear of Kyle’s death earlier this month.

“As Memorial Day weekend approaches, we are reminded of the sacrifices made by patriots like Kyle and so many others who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and protect our rights as Americans. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt appreciation are extended to the Milliken family and the many families who will be remembering lives lost this Memorial Day weekend.”