FOXBOROUGH — Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington looks at young teammates such as Justin Green and Brandon Jones, and it’s like a trip back in time.
It was only five years ago that Arrington was an undrafted and unknown cornerback from Hofstra trying to scratch out a living in the NFL, just as Green and Jones are trying to do now. In 2008, Arrington was with the practice squads for the Eagles and the Buccaneers; the Patriots signed him to their practice squad in 2009 after the Bucs let him go in September.
“Where does the time go?” Arrington said Tuesday. “I’m telling you, man . . .
“I’m looked at moreso like the big brother now in the secondary. When I was coming up, I had James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather, who were tremendous teachers to me. And now that I’m in the same position, it’s gratifying, just to know you can help someone else.”
Arrington certainly has earned his role as one of the “big brothers” in the secondary. After working his way up to the active roster in 2009, Arrington has been solid and consistent as a slot and outside cornerback, starting 40 games over the last three seasons and playing in all 48.
He even tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions in 2011, and the Patriots rewarded him this past offseason with a contract extension worth $8.5 million guaranteed over the next two seasons.
Arrington has worked with Aqib Talib as the starting cornerbacks throughout camp, and will likely play the slot cornerback position in the nickel package, with Alfonzo Dennard playing on the outside.
Arrington said it didn’t take any magic to work his way from undrafted player to NFL starter, and he emphasizes hard work and professionalism to the young defensive backs, including rookie third-round picks Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon.
“It’s perseverance, you know?” Arrington said. “In retrospect, I was a little wet behind the ears, but I think I’m still learning. It’s a matter of knowing what I was capable of, and then being part of such a standout organization from top to bottom.”
Coach Bill Belichick was asked how much Arrington, 27, has developed since 2009, and he said, “a ton.”
“Kyle is one of our hardest-working players,” Belichick said. “He’s been a very dependable and durable player that’s been out there a lot.
“He’s come a long way from the practice squad to playing corner to playing inside in the nickel position. His reads and techniques and communication and overall understanding of what we’re doing and what our opponents are doing has improved every year.
“He’s a lot more valuable to us now than he was obviously when he came here. But even progressively each year he continues to expand his value to the team because of his performance, improvement, and also his versatility.”
Belichick doesn’t toss around high praise very often, and Arrington was taken aback when told about the kind words Belichick said before Tuesday’s practice.
“Did he now? Oh wow, I’m honored,” Arrington said. “He expects a high level of play and utmost professionalism. My goal specifically is, every day, try to work on my craft and get better. There’s always something you can improve on.”
One area in which Arrington would like to improve upon is creating turnovers — specifically, interceptions. Just one year after leading the league in interceptions, Arrington put up a goose egg in 2012. He has eight career interceptions since first cracking an NFL roster in 2009, and seven of them came in 2011.
“You hate to throw gutter balls after rolling a strike, don’t you?” he quipped.
Arrington had a rough start to 2012, allowing touchdowns in four straight games from Weeks 3-6. He also allowed six straight quarterbacks (Kevin Kolb, Joe Flacco, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, and Mark Sanchez) to compile a passer rating over 110 when targeting him, according to the website ProFootballFocus.com, which analyzes every snap of every game.
But Arrington improved, allowing a passer rating over 100 in just two of his last 10 games (including playoffs). Overall last season, opposing receivers caught 64 percent of passes targeted at Arrington, compared with 58 percent in 2011 and 64.9 percent in 2010.
Arrington said team goals trump individual goals, and that he’s confident his stats will come if he just does his job.
“The most important thing is we come out with tremendous effort each and every Sunday. Individual stats, those chips fall where they may,” he said. “It’s all about the team, and I think that’s why we have a great makeup of a group of guys.
“No one puts individual stats ahead of the team. We have one goal — I don’t have to tell you what that is.”