DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaiian Islanders quarterback Darnell Arceneaux, who leads arenafootball2 in rushing yards, has been criticized for not staying in the pocket long enough.
When the Hawaiian Islanders became a reality last fall, Darnell Arceneaux was the first piece of the puzzle.
Arceneaux taking his lumps
By Nick Abramo
In many ways, it has been a good fit. Arceneaux, without a doubt, is an exciting, energetic quarterback who can hurt you with his arm and his legs.
But there is one dilemma: A lot of critics believe Arceneaux's scrambling style is not a winning arenafootball2 formula.
Take, for example, the lineup of quarterbacks who have visited the Islanders (2-9) at the Blaisdell Arena this year --all strapping, drop-back types (such as 6-foot-3, 230-pound Peoria quarterback Walter Church) who stay in the pocket and sometimes take the full brunt of a defensive lineman's licking.
Not that the slightly smaller and more wiry Arceneaux (6-2, 200) shies away from getting hit. He probably gets hit more than the others, because when he takes off --usually making a bunch of people miss --the blows eventually come.
Peoria coach Bruce Cowdrey, whose team beat the Islanders two weeks ago, thinks Arceneaux would be a much bigger weapon as a pocket passer.
Arceneaux doesn't fully agree.
"This is a game I think I can dominate in -- the way I can run and throw the ball," he said. "I can make plays when they're not there."
Arceneaux, who leads the Islanders at division rival Bakersfield (6-4) today, said he never considered himself an "all-out running quarterback."
"But if the No. 1 and 2 receivers aren't open, I'm going to the run ... in an emergency," he said. "I'm always looking to get rid of the ball, and I would gladly switch all of my rushing TDs to passing TDs to our receivers."
Who: Hawaiian Islanders (2-9) at Bakersfield Blitz (6-4)
When: Today, 4 p.m. Hawaii time
Radio: 1420-AM, about 6 p.m. (delayed)
In 11 games, Arceneaux has completed 163 of 342 passes for 2,030 yards, an average of 184.5 yards per game. He has thrown for 29 touchdowns with eight interceptions, and he has rushed 52 times for a league-leading 230 yards and 15 more scores.
"We've played some of the best teams in the league, and Darnell's athletic ability stands out every time," Islanders coach Chad Carlson said. "Fans know that when they're seeing Darnell play, they're seeing something nice. As long as he keeps improving, you'll see big things from him in the future. And he's getting better every game."
But despite all of Arceneaux's past football experience, this season has been one of adjustment.
"This is a new experience for all of us ... and I'm going through the process, learning this new industry," said Arceneaux, who starred at St. Louis School in high school and at Utah in college before spending some time in the Canadian Football League. "I'm going to take some lumps."
All of a sudden, the once simple act of dropping back after the snap wasn't so simple anymore.
"I went from a fundamentally sound five-step quarterback drop to what basically would be a bad drop in conventional football. In arena ball, it's just not the same steps, it's a dramatic difference, and I think I've adapted real well."
Passing, running, scrambling and leading his team to the end zone are things Arceneaux has done all his football life. It's doubtful he could ever completely conform to Cowdrey's QB prescription.
No matter what, Arceneaux is constantly working to improve.
"I've learned so much ... setting my feet on time, anticipating, looking at what the corners are doing," he said. "And I feel my accuracy is a lot better. I'm putting it where I want it to be more now than at the beginning of the season.
"And I'm believing in myself."
Carlson likes Arceneaux's attitude.
"We signed him so early so he could help create and build this team," the Islanders coach said. "He loves the fans, loves Hawaii, and he carried a lot on his shoulders in those early weeks of the season. It was like he was carrying the weight of the team, and his performance wasn't what it is now.
"He finally said, 'I'm going to go out and have fun,' and he quit putting so much pressure on himself."
Arceneaux is aware of the criticism directed his way, and he takes it constructively.
"I've been taking some hits (on the field), big hits, and I've also gotten so much better at becoming a drop-back quarterback.
"Criticism will come and I have an understanding of what I need to work on," he said. "And in the offseason, I'll be working on bulking up to (better) take the hits."
Arceneaux thinks breaking a nine-game losing streak last week with a resounding 53-34 victory over San Diego will do wonders for the team.
So don't be surprised if the Islanders flashy quarterback -- who came into this year with very little experience in losing -- latches on to the winning momentum and "runs" with it.
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