LATROBE – The first day of contact football was a big day for a couple of Steelers rookies.
And while Jarvis Jones will go on to at least see spot duty with the first team this season, and Le’Veon Bell will probably go on to become a starter by the end of camp, only one rookie is consistently playing on the second team right now.
And you’ve probably never heard of Brian Arnfelt.
“I’m just doing what I’m told,” the undrafted Arnfelt said when asked how, who, what, or why the Steelers installed him as the second-team left defensive end on the first day of spring practice.
He’s stayed there ever since, so it couldn’t have just been a case of going in alphabetical order.
Arnfelt played defensive tackle at Northwestern, like Corbin Bryant before him. Of course, the Steelers had Bryant on their practice squad the last two years before losing him to Buffalo.
Arnfelt was a team captain at Northwestern as a senior, his only year as a starter. That’s because a broken right foot cost him his junior year, and he came back at the end of the season to start the bowl game against Texas A&M. Arnfelt had 5 tackles in the game and was later voted the “Ultimate Wildcat” Award for the way he overcame adversity.
As a senior, Arnfelt had 3 sacks, and at his pro day ran a 4.81 40 with 38 reps on the bench press and a 31-inch vertical jump. Those are numbers that would’ve fit with any and all of the combine athletes, but the 6-4¾, 303-pounder wasn’t bothered by the snub.
“I ended up being in a great situation so there are no complaints here,” he said.
Arnfelt was born and raised in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, a northeast suburb of St. Paul. He didn’t do a lot of ice fishing, but “I did a lot of ice hockey. I played hockey up until my junior year. Spending all game in the penalty box isn’t too fun.”
Arnfelt was an “enforcer” in high school, like his hero, the late Derek Boogaard. The position was thrust upon him because he got so big. And then he got too big for the game and concentrated on football.
He went to Northwestern, another ice box, this one on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago. He earned a degree in communications and a Masters in Sports Administration. He finished the work from Pittsburgh during spring practices, but isn’t too worried about where it’s taking him.
“Who knows where it’ll go?” he said. “I’m just focusing on being a Pittsburgh Steeler for now.”
He also doesn’t know where that will go. While he’s big, strong, quick and on Monday was spotted pushing David DeCastro into the backfield to slow a sweep, Arnfelt realizes he’s still a long shot here in Pittsburgh.
Line coach John Mitchell is keeping his young nose tackles hungry by installing the overachieving Arnfelt on the second team. In doing so, Mitchell’s giving veteran defensive end Al Woods some game-day flexibility by working Woods at second-team nose tackle. But while Arnfelt might be temporary filler, Mitchell hasn’t felt inclined to use any of the other rookies at LDE. So Arnfelt plugs away.
“It’s a great opportunity here in Pittsburgh,” he said. “I think Pittsburgh’s a class act organization. The coaching here is great. The veteran players have been phenomenal, helping out. So I really do feel happy to be here and blessed to be in a great situation.”
No pranks from the wily vets? Only wisdom?
“No pranks yet, but don’t hold me to that throughout camp,” Arnfelt said with a laugh. “But, yeah, I think it’s just the fundamentals. When you see guys like Brett (Keisel) and Ziggy (Hood), you see their fundamentals are so good, their hands are always inside, how quick they are with their feet, their footwork, their pad level. I think that’s what it really comes down to. You look at their consistent play. It’s just phenomenal. It’s awesome.”
NOTES – The Steelers announced that their Friday night practice has been moved from Latrobe Stadium to St. Vincent College because of diseased grass at the stadium.
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