Dan Arnold knows the struggle of converting to tight end

Dan Arnold, Brian Burns

SPARTANBURG — Not just anyone can convert to tight end.

Certainly not someone who isn't willing to accept the physical, mental, and emotional demands of doubling his workload, playing under some of the most demanding coaches, and taking on what is often a thankless role.

From that standpoint, Panthers tight end Dan Arnold wasn't necessarily surprised that Tim Tebow wasn't able to do it, as the Jaguars cut the former Heisman Trophy-winning and first-round NFL quarterback Tuesday. The 34-year-old Tebow was trying to make his old college coach Urban Meyer's team as a tight end, and as you might have noticed from the viral videos, it wasn't going so well.

"I mean, anything's possible, but just from the athlete he is and the drive he's had throughout his career, I'm sure he gave it his best," Arnold said Tuesday. "But yeah, it goes to show that playing tight end is not for the faint of heart."

Arnold knows, because he made the difficult transition himself, and he took the hard road to do it.

He was a 222-pound wide receiver at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville, and NFL scouts saw his 6-foot-6 frame and thought about putting weight on him and turning him into something else.

He ended up with a chance in Saints training camp, and the Saints offense is sort of the deep end of the NFL pool in terms of offensive complexity. Also, he was being coached at the time by Dan Campbell, now the kneecap-biting coach of the Lions, who got Arnold's attention pretty early in the process.

"Yeah, I definitely got screamed at a couple of times by Dan Campbell; he certainly let me have it a time or two," Arnold said with a laugh. "What a lot of people don't see, you get in the meeting room, you watch the film and do all that, he's one of the smartest people I know in terms of football, and he's going to coach you the right way. He'll get hot and bothered, especially if you make the same mistake a number of times, like I may or may not have done.

"But the thing that made him such a great coach, is 'This is why we're doing it, let me show you how to do it.' He did a hell of a job, that's for sure."

Dan Arnold

Arnold admitted that when he walked into Saints camp, he didn't really know what he was walking into. Having played a different position at a fairly low level of college football, he had to learn a brand new language, immediately, with a crazy person yelling at him.

"I think the biggest thing was 'Holy crap, there's a lot of information to know,'" Arnold said of his rookie year. "Just the nature of the position, the protections, we're in the run game and also the route concepts. There's just a lot of information you have to know.

"But that's just the first step in the mastery of it is getting all that stuff down, because you can't really go and succeed at tight end unless you know what you're doing. You can get lucky a couple times and make a couple of plays here and there. But for the most part, you have to be a smart football player, know what's going on, be able to read defenses.

"Next to quarterback, it's maybe the most intricate position. For me, that was the toughest thing. Since I played receiver in college, it was an ABC of offense, compared to what I had done."

Arnold himself is still working on the blocking part. The Panthers brought him here to be a pass-catcher, and he's excelled at that part so far in camp.

But the bar is still reasonably low for him on the other half of the job description. Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said earlier in camp that Arnold "has to be a functional blocker and a willing blocker, which he is."

"He is an excellent receiver," Rhule said. "We see him being a red zone threat, third-down threat, vertical-passing game threat at the tight end position. He's a grinder, he's a worker, he finds ways to get his hands on balls, and he's the ultimate brand guy. He loves to compete. He's a good veteran for the young guys to look up to."

Dan Arnold

At 26, Arnold is entering his fifth year in the NFL, and he knows he's still learning how to play the position. And he acknowledges how hard it is, and that he wasn't sure at first what he was getting into.

So the prospect of a former quarterback deciding late in his athletic life to take up the job, . . . yeah, he was never sure how that was going to work.

"You never really see how a guy is going to react when you're running duo or single-back power, and you have a 300-pound defensive end you're supposed to block," Arnold said. "And are you going to put your face into him and give it everything you've got? I'm not saying he wouldn't, but you always ask those questions.

"When there are bigger receivers coming into the league, and you hear people say can he play tight end? Until you see how they respond, you don't know. Are they going to be like Tommy Tremble and put their face into that guy? Or are they just big for show, and don't really want to live that part of that life. That has to be answered before you think about whether a guy can do the whole job."

Arnold has certainly gotten his taste of that life.

Last week against the Colts, he got rung up a number of times, taking some hard shots from Colts safeties. He's still standing, shaking his head and understanding that this is the life he has chosen.

"That's part of the nature of the position I play," Arnold said. "Especially going across the middle. That's stuff I have to get used to, and pretty much have. As long as you get up and keep going to the next play, that's all that matters."

View photos from Tuesday's walk-through training camp practice at Wofford.

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