As the NFL moves to a more passing league, teams need at least three starting-caliber cornerbacks as nickel packages are becoming more prevalent.
In an ideal world, the New England Patriots' top three cornerbacks would be 2010 Pro Bowl selection Devin McCourty, 2011 second-round pick Ras-I Dowling and Kyle Arrington, who tied for the NFL lead in interceptions last season.
The biggest impediment to that trio playing cornerback in New England's nickel defense is health, specifically Dowling's. After suffering through an injury-filled senior season at Virginia, Dowling lasted just 91 defensive snaps as a rookie before landing on injured reserve with a hip injury. If healthy, Dowling's size and length have him best suited for the edge, which would result in Arrington moving inside to cover the slot receiver.
For Arrington, who also had a team-high 15 passes defensed last season, that's just fine.
"When you're in the slot, you have to be able to identify to go anywhere," Arrington said on Tuesday, according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. "So you've really got to understand where your help is on the field intensively. The discipline level has to be higher at that position.
"You have to see things quicker (in the slot)...I like being where the action is."
The Patriots are not banking on Dowling remaining healthy. Arrington is just fine on the outside and the Patriots added veteran cornerback Will Allen to their roster in March. Versatile safety Steve Gregory, a free safety miscast as a strong safety by the San Diego Chargers the last few seasons, could also cover slot receivers, as well.