<span>Everything was going swimmingly for Saints wide receiver Adrian Arrington as a rookie.
The tall, speedy product from the University of Michigan had been tabbed by the Saints in the seventh round of last year's draft after the Saints swung a deal with the Green Bay Packers in exchange for a 2009 sixth round draft choice. The minimal investment was looking to be a bullish one for the Black-and-Gold and even threatened to pay immediate dividends, a rarity in both today's shaky financial market and often times just as rare when dabbling with late round draft choices.
Arrington, who declared for the draft as an underclassman, caught 109 passes for 1,438 yards and 16 touchdowns while at Michigan. He immediately opened eyes during the Saints' rookie camp following the draft with his ability to make plays not only across the middle of the field, but also down the field. He then parlayed the successes he experienced in the rookie mini-camp and flashed the same abilities in the team's entire team mini-camp a month later and throughout the team's organized team activities.
Despite heading into the mini-camps on a team deep at the wide receiver positions, Arrington appeared to be carving a niche and a role out for himself that he thought was sure to continue to blossom throughout his inaugural season in the professional ranks.
"He opened eyes around the locker room pretty quickly," said veteran quarterback Mark Brunell. "He's big, strong and fast and has great hands and he was catching the ball all over the field. I wasn't too shocked the one-day during training to look up in the huddle and see him listening in to get the play. He fit right in to a pretty strong group of receivers. He didn't seem like a rookie to me."
In training camp Arrington became a favorite target of Saints quarterbacks and had people talking that the Saints appeared to have unearthed another late draft find, similar in many regards to the good fortunes the team had found with another seventh round draft pick in 2006, Marques Colston.
"I was pleased that I had picked up a pretty complicated offensive system rather quickly," Arrington said. "I was able to get out there and use my athletic skills because I knew the plays and was reacting instead of thinking the entire time, which you can see sometimes slows a guy down."
"The first thing that I noticed about him was how bright he was," Brunell said. "He learned the playbook quickly and was dependable. The kid gloves came off really quickly with him."
Arrington made his rookie debut in the Saints' first preseason game of the 2008 season and translated his mini-camp and training camp playmaking skills to the game. On one of his first plays from scrimmage he caught a 13-yard pass in front of Cardinals first round draft choice and eventual all-rookie first team honoree Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Then, to begin the third quarter, Arrington took an end-around for six yards. A few plays later Arrington alertly scooped up an Aaron Stecker fumble deep in Arizona territory, which the Saints turned into a go-ahead touchdown three plays later. Arrington focus, he said, was on the bouncing football and the end zone just a few years away. That a gaggle of players was quickly convening on the football was the last thing in his mind.
"I was thinking, 'scoop and score,'" Arrington said. "Everything was happening fast. I was looking down and making sure I had the ball and tucking it away."
"My foot got caught in the turf and the pile rolled right onto my foot and I felt it right away in my toe," Arrington said. "I gutted through it and thought to myself, 'Maybe it's like a stubbed toe and it will calm down after a few minutes.'"
Arrington tried to shake off the bothersome injury and ran back onto the field, albeit in considerable discomfort, for the Saints' next offensive series.
Backed up deep in their own end of the field. Arrington helped change field position by making an acrobatic 33-yard reception down the left sideline and set up a chip-shot field goal against the eventual NFC champions by beating a cornerback and making the tough reception in the face of a fast closing safety.
"That felt great," Arrington said of making the big reception. "But I felt like I was running on one leg. The trainers called me over and wanted to take a look at my foot. It was really frustrating."
Arrington tried to battle through the painful injury through an aggressive rehabilitation process with the Saints' training staff, but said every time he felt he had turned the corner, it would flare back up and become bothersome again. "It's hard when you are playing any position on the field to have your ability to change direction and run at full speed taken away from you. It was really frustrating."
"We decided to have surgery on it so that it wouldn't be a career-lingering type of injury," Arrington said. "It was frustrating because I wanted to contribute and help out, but (the surgery) was the best thing for the long-term."
Arrington said his frustration compounded when he watched Colston get injured early in the season and a slew of injuries decimate the Saints' receiving corps early in the season. "That was hard, because I knew I could have helped the team, but I just had to suck it up and watch and try to learn as much as I could. That was all I could really do," Arrington stated.
The receiver remarked that he feels like he is almost back to 100% and actively participating in the team's off-season strength and conditioning program. He also mentioned he's more anxious than ever to return to the practice field than he ever has been in his life.
"I doubt there are a whole lot of guys that are really eager to get out there and practice," the native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa jokingly said. "But I missed a lot of time and the thought of getting back out there and practicing is pretty exciting. It's another step for me in the process. I want to get back to where I was before I was injured and then improve on that."
Arrington, pausing after his morning workout, said he is counting the days until the team takes the field. He simply wants to get back on the field and start catching passes again and opening eyes.
In his short stint in the NFL, Arrington caught the attention of perhaps the man that matters to most when it comes time to determine who plays for the Saints: Head Coach Sean Payton.
"Be mindful of this player," Payton said. "I like this guy a lot. He's smart, and he's big."