Saints TE Dan Arnold is becoming another player defenses have to worry about
Dan Arnold didn’t feel like a tight end at first.
After a handful of practices this summer, he called the transition from wide receiver one of the hardest things he has had to do. There was a lot to take in, a lot of habits to change. It is starting to feel more natural and comfortable for Arnold, but there are still things to learn.
“I think still have a lot more growth to go, that’s for sure,” Arnold said. “There’s a lot of things I can do better. Absolutely.”
It took a little time for the tight end, who initially hooked on with the team as an undrafted player out of Division III Wisconsin-Platteville and spent his rookie year on injured reserve, to get going this year. Arnold’s first catch didn’t come until Week 7, but he’s starting to become a valuable piece of the offense as evidenced by the four catches for 45 yards he had against the Falcons.
More importantly, he’s starting to become another player who can cause problems for a defense. His 25-yard diving score against Atlanta is a good example. The Falcons tried to cover Arnold with safety Sharrod Neasman, who spent time with New Orleans this summer, but he couldn’t land a jam and Arnold ran by him on his way to the end zone.
Those are the kind of mismatches that New Orleans is trying to create with Arnold up and running.
“I think that’s a thing that’s always on coach (Sean) Payton’s mind,” Arnold said. “Sometimes they’re going to give us a linebacker, and we’re going to be able to beat him with speed. And sometimes they’re going to give us a DB, and we’re going to have to be able to beat him with length.”
Arnold has done a good job of evenly exploiting his matchups. He has four catches while being covered by a linebacker, four while matched up with safeties, and two against open zones. Overall, he has 130 yards on 10 catches.
He’s also spread his big plays out pretty evenly. He beat Baltimore safety Tony Jefferson for a gain of 25, Philadelphia linebacker Nigel Bradham for 23, and ran a deep corner route against a Bengals’ zone, which was covered by a safety, for 23.
So, why not just use a cornerback on Arnold? The tight end has turned himself into a serviceable blocker, which is the reason why defenses have to treat him like a tight end instead of another wide receiver.
“A good receiving tight end for them,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “Shows up when he gets opportunities. And again they use so many different parts of their arsenal, and they attack you so many different ways. You have to contend with all those guys.”
Arnold’s development has been exciting for his teammates to watch.
Drew Brees has played with a few projects, or what he refers to as “transition players,” at tight end. One of them was Antonio Gates in San Diego. The other was Jimmy Graham in New Orleans. While Brees is not yet putting Arnold in that class of player, he has enjoyed watching the process unfold.
“It’s kind of fun to take these guys that you would call maybe projects in the beginning and begin to see them kind of mature within the framework of the position,” Brees said. “I think for him, what I love most about him is just his eagerness to learn, and to get reps, and to gain experience, and to get better.
“He wants to please, and he’s so receptive to everything you tell him. So, the sky’s the limit for a guy like that.”
And one of the things that Arnold says he has enjoyed about playing with Brees is that the quarterback is very particular in what he wants.
Brees often works with the younger players on routes after practice, and in those moments Arnold has gathered a clear understanding of how he is supposed to approach his job.
“It comes down to the very subtle movements of letting him know where you’re going on a route,” Arnold said. “He’s very much a stickler. He wants it his way. The best way about him is that he communicates that to you in a way that you’re able to learn how he likes things.”
The main thing this team likes is players who take advantage of their opportunities. So far, Arnold isn’t letting too many slip by him.