TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Javier Arenas is a cheater, and he isn’t afraid to admit it.
No, Alabama’s gabby cornerback and kick returner isn’t acting outside of the rules or violating team policy.
He just is watching film.
“It’s cheating, you know,” Arenas said. “It’s cheating, basically. You read the guys on tape and watch it over and over, so when you’re out there and he’s about to drop his weight to his hips to run a route, you sit right there and get a pick.”
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Now entering his senior season as an elder statesman in the Alabama defensive backfield, the Tampa, Fla., native remembers the day discovering film work. Being a cornerback in a youth league was frustrating at the time.
“When I got to high school and we started watching tape, it was like a huge ‘Ahhhh,’ ” he said. “Ahh, we can do this? You’re cheating. I see it as a huge advantage. Some people don’t. Some people see it as torture, but I take full advantage of it.”
With the lights dimmed and the projector playing, Arenas hopes to diversify his reputation. As the NCAA active leader in punt returns, punt return yards and punt returns for a touchdown, the 5-foot-9 speedster said people often forget he plays defense as well. He playfully blamed reporters for that perception.
“Y’all was calling me a return man,” he said. “I don’t know where you get that from. I’ve been trying to tell you that the whole time I was a cornerback. I came here to play cornerback. I didn’t come here to return punts. That was y’alls little project, something that y’all went about. I hated it. That’s why I didn’t want to come talk to y’all. If I would have come talk to y’all, there would have been words too.
“... I mean, when I’m at practice, I don’t go kick with the punters and catch punts all day. I go and work. If a guy is calling me just a return man, that is disrespect. I almost went with the specialists after you started calling me that and walk around with my helmet in my hand. So I didn’t like that at all. I didn’t use it as motivation because, no offense to y’all, I’m not thinking about y’all on the field. No offense, I like y’all. You’re cool. But I never labeled myself that. I’ve been a cornerback since I was six.”
As a junior, he made the All-SEC team as a returner and cornerback by racking up 63 tackles, two sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown. But his three punt-return touchdowns and a 15.9-yard return average easily overshadowed his defensive stat line.
When it came to Saturday’s scrimmage, Arenas was encouraged with the overall performance of the defense but disappointed in himself for not making more big plays.
“Overall, we got a picture of what we need to work on, what we’re doing good and what we’re not doing good,” he said.
So, what exactly do the defenders need to improve?
“Oh, put me on the spot,” a smiling Arenas said. “The things that need to be worked on are looked at by the coaches. ... I can’t tell you that.”
The pass rush, a point of emphasis since last season, has seen significant progress, Arenas said. That subject also brought out the clever side of the player who wore his Playboy All-American shirt to meet with reporters.
“You don’t have to cover the guys for so long,” he said when defenders get into the offensive backfield. “You can run around the ballpark and go get a hotdog and come back while he’s scrambling.”