‘Bama’s Arenas aims to show he’s a corner, too

Published 1:21 pm Friday, August 22, 2008

TUSCALOOSA – Javier Arenas has been busy trying to shed labels throughout his Alabama career.

Too short? He begs to differ. Return man? OK, that one fits but Arenas doesn’t think it tells the whole story.

The 24th-ranked Crimson Tide’s return man/cornerback has moved into a likely starting role in the defensive secondary after two seasons mostly spent returning punts and kicks — the jobs he was recruited for in the first place by the previous coaching staff.

“I came in here as a cornerback first, special teams player second,” Arenas said. “That’s the mind-set I always had. I’ve been a cornerback all my life. I had confidence at the corner spot my whole life.

“The coaching staff didn’t really have confidence in me playing corner, but I did. In my mind, the whole time I was a corner. I just had to prove it to other people.”

He has apparently convinced the person whose opinion counts most: Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, who spends much of his practice time with the defensive backs.

Arenas has been not only working at No. 1 corner but also at the star position in the Tide’s nickel defense, where he saw some action last season.

“He’s done a really good job on both, and it has not seemed to affect him as a return man,” Saban said. “He’s done a really good job. He’s really played well for us.”

Arenas had already established himself in his other role. He ranked seventh nationally in punt return average last season, including a 61-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against LSU, and was also solid returning kicks.

However, thanks partly to his 5-foot-9, 198-pound stature, Arenas was recruited by Mike Shula’s staff as a special teamer for a team seeking a threat in the return game.

He started to change some minds last season, when he had 20 tackles. The always confident Arenas figures others still need convincing.

“I think they’re going to be very surprised, because I was always a return man and because I’m a smaller guy,” he said. “There’s a lot of tall receivers out there. I’m pretty excited to show what I’m capable of. All it’s going to take is one play, an interception or a nice pass breakup or a good tackle until they begin to believe.

“Initially they probably thought there was no way I could play corner.”

Alabama’s other starting corner, Kareem Jackson, is already sold.

“I think this is his year he’s going to have an outbreak season at corner,” Jackson said. “He’s improved a lot. He’s always had great ball skills. (It was) just taking in the concept of the defense and just learning everything.”

Returning punts is the easy part for Arenas. His 15.4-yard average last season ranked fourth in school history. He also shined in that big game against LSU, racking up 237 all-purpose yards and giving the Tide the lead briefly with that fourth-quarter return.

Arenas figures he’ll be hard to stop after his first interception, too.

“If I catch an interception,” he said, “they’re going to catch hell out there.”