Arrington gets hot after slow start for Lions

David La

Minnesota running back Thomas Hamner recently pondered the question: If you were an NFL general manager, who would be your first choice for linebacker, Ohio State’s Na’il Diggs, or Penn State’s LaVar Arrington?
Hamner mulled over the proposition for a few moments and finally decided on Arrington, the latest in a long line of standouts from “Linebacker U.”
Hamner’s reason for wanting the Lions outside ‘backer; “He plays with a chip on shoulder.”
The 6-foot-3, 233-pound Arrington, a surly defender to be sure, must have smiled after a breakthrough sophomore season in 1998. The Pittsburgh product captured the Big Ten defensive player of the year award, garnered second-team All America honors, and finished as a semifinalist for the Butkus Award.
But fueled by daunting expectations set after last season, Arrington’s rising star showed signs of burnout earlier this season.
“I felt like I had gotten away from a couple of things,” Arrington said. “Maybe I was just being too hard on myself, because I really didn’t play bad football the first half of the season.”
In the first six games this season, Arrington tallied a respectable 27 total tackles (seven of which combined for 21 yards in losses), one sack and a Big Ten defensive player of the week nod for his play against Arizona. Close, but no LaVar.
“I just wasn’t blitzing or anything, I was in coverage more,” Arrington said. “It made my game stronger overall, but I feel my strength is being around the ball.”
Jerry Sandusky, the Lions defensive coordinator, got the signal Arrington put out. Loud and clear.
“Now they’re blitzing me, so I have a chance to create and do different things that I enjoy doing,” Arrington said.
At the expense of Ohio State, Purdue, and Illinois, No. 11 returned to form as the nation’s most feared defender.
In those three games, Arrington registered 18 tackles, eight tackles-for-loss and seven sacks.
Against Purdue, Arrington sacked quarterback Drew Brees and forced a fumble that Arrington took 2 yards for a touchdown. He also employed his renowned leaping ability — a vertical jump measured at 40 inches — to block a Boilermakers field-goal attempt. For his efforts, Arrington won Big Ten defensive player of the week honors for a second time this season.
“He’s a dominating football player,” Gophers coach Glen Mason said. “He’s a big linebacker that’s skillful enough to probably be their tailback if they let him play there.”
A seemingly endless amount of athletic ability gives Arrington the opportunity to make a wide variety of big plays, but he’s quick to point out that the muscle is controlled by the mind.
“(My football intelligence is) always overlooked because of some of the athletic things I do,” Arrington said. “Fans want to see it as an athletic phenomenon as opposed to being the result of having such an understanding of the game that you know when to do certain things.
“You look at Michael Jordan, everybody saw Michael as a scorer. But nobody really paid attention to how good he was on defense. He was a defensive guru.”
So is Arrington, and luckily for the Gophers and the rest of the Big Ten this season is probably his last.
“The big discussion is whether he’s coming out (for the NFL draft) or not,” Mason said. “If he comes out he’ll probably be a top-five pick. There aren’t many of those guys around.”

David La Vaque covers football and welcomes coments at [email protected]