If you had to pick one word to describe Wildcat David Arnold, it would be versatile. The redshirt junior is embarking on his second position switch within a year, moving back to safety from outside linebacker.
Arnold played two years at safety but moved to outside linebacker last season in an effort to get more playing time. But now that starting safeties Brad Phillips and Brendan Smith have moved on, Arnold is moving back to the position at which he started.
"David has played a lot of football for us and he gives us some experience there," said defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz.
Arnold, says Hankwitz, will compete for playing time with sophomore Jared Carpenter at the safety spot opposite junior Brian Peters, who is penciled in as one of the starters. Sophomore Hunter Bates may also be in the mix.
Replacing Smith (a four-year starter) and Phillips (three) will be no easy task for Northwestern, and it figures to be a primary focus during spring practice. Peters started five games last season when Smith was sidelined with a thumb injury and has extensive experience as a nickelback. Carpenter got one start when Phillips was out of the lineup against Indiana.
Arnold, from Copley (Ohio), was redshirted in 2007. He was in and out of the lineup with injuries as a backup safety in 2008 and primarily contributed on special teams.
Stuck behind Phillips and Smith on the depth chart last season, Arnold suggested moving to outside linebacker at fall camp and took to the position immediately. (In Northwestern's scheme, the weakside linebacker's responsibilities are very similar to the nickelback position to which he was accustomed.)
After missing the first three games of the season with a hamstring injury, Arnold eventually played in nine games for the Wildcats, starting five.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder's breakout game was at Purdue in Week 5 where, in just his second game back in the lineup, he registered four tackles, including his first career sack, and also forced a momentum-changing fumble on kickoff coverage. That performance earned Arnold his first career start against Miami the following week, and he responded by racking up five tackles with two TFL and one sack. He was named defensive player of the week after posting six tackles against Penn State in Week 9.
He finished the season with 34 total tackles, including 4.5 TFL.
Hankwitz is confident that the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder's transition to safety will be as smooth as the one to linebacker. Indeed, Arnold's biggest problem at Northwestern hasn't been his play -- it's been staying on the field. He has endured four knee operations, two on each knee, in three years at the school.