There's a thoroughly entertaining drill that the Patriots perform during training camp, usually in full view of reporters, in the right field end zone closest to the media tent.
It's a one-on-one pass rush/protection exercise between linebackers and running backs. The goal is simple: the linebacker must make whatever moves necessary to get to the imaginary quarterback; the running back must do everything in his power, and within the rules, to prevent that from happening.
The competition is always intense, on both sides of the ball. This past summer, that was ratcheted up a notch when defensive backs were added to the mix. From a layman's perspective, it seemed like the defender who had the most success in the drill was second-year cornerback Kyle Arrington. He just appeared to possess an innate ability to outmaneuver his would-be blocker.
But, let's face it, how often to defensive backs get a chance to rush the quarterback? Could've just been beginner's luck.
Apparently not. The Patriots coaching staff took notice of Arrington's adroitness in the drill and filed the information away for a later date.
That day came the week of the Colts game. In assembling their game plan for Indy, Bill Belichickand his assistants found a matchup they felt they could exploit – by moving the 5-10 (a somewhat generous listing), 196-pound Arrington from his natural position on the edge to a defensive end/outside linebacker, hand-on-the-ground role. The assignment would pit Arrington against Colts right tackle Ryan Diem, a 10-year veteran and 6-6, 310-pound giant.
The plot may not have been drawn up in the dirt, at the spur of the moment, but that's from where the idea nonetheless sprang. Arrington admitted after his team's 31-28 Week-11 win over Indianapolis that the coaches installed the wrinkle after recalling his abilities on the grassy fields of training camp.
So, throughout the week of practice leading up to the game, Arrington spent time working from a down-lineman's stance and engaging with players nearly twice his size. In his place at right corner would slide Darius Butler, another second-year corner whose starting job Arrington actually took earlier this season.
All of this scheming, of course, was unbeknownst to the media. Naturally, then, when Arrington appeared to hobble off the field in the first quarter with an apparent knee injury, Butler took his place and no one in the Gillette Stadium press box blinked an eye.
Arrington did return for his regular kickoff team duty a short time later, but Butler remained at right corner. Perhaps, it was assumed, Arrington's injury had worsened.
But then, a few plays later, there was a streaking No. 27 Patriots jersey in hot pursuit of Colts QB Peyton Manning, who'd been flushed out of his comfortable pocket and was trying to complete a pass on the run.
OK, maybe Arrington lined up in the slot and was sent on a corner blitz. At first, that's how it looked, but then he started creeping closer and closer to the line of scrimmage, until eventually, there was no pretense about it whatsoever. Arrington put his hand on the ground and dug his toes into the turf in a three-point stance.
He did this for the majority of the evening against Indianapolis.
So, Kyle, how'd it go?
"Ah, it was different," he replied with his trademark smile. "You know … I definitely have a whole new appreciation for the d-line and what those guys go through in the trenches. It was a battle. Diem, he's a terrific tackle and I was just trying my best to get around him and get to Peyton.
"I was anxious to make a play ... to try to get the sack or disrupt him the best I could."
To be fair, Arrington's presence in Diem's face may have come as a surprise to the Colts, but on many occasions, the corner-turned-pass-rusher appeared to get swallowed up by his oversized opponent.
Surprisingly, though, Indy's offense did very little to exploit the mismatch.
"At first," safety James Sandersconceded, "we were thinking, 'I hope they don't check to run plays and try to run through Kyle,' but he did a good job of getting to Peyton a few times."
With his good humor off the field and solid production on it, Arrington has quickly risen from mid-season practice squad signing a season ago to full-time contributor on defense and special teams for New England. And with the confidence to take on any and every role that's asked of him – even seemingly absurd ones like we witnessed against the Colts – Arrington's future with the Patriots looks bright.
And for the record, while this may have been the only time we'll see Arrington in that unusual position, it wasn't the first time he'd been asked to do so.
"Boys & Girls Club," he revealed with a laugh. "That's the last time I played d-end."