I started this year off talking about the pre-season battle to take over the gaping hole at left tackle in the wake of Jermon Bushrod’s departure to Chicago.
Charles Brown eventually won the battle, but not the war.
By the end of the year, Terron Armstead worked his way into the starting lineup and maintained that position until their season’s unfortunate end in Seattle.
Who does Armstead have to thank for his ‘big break’?
Perhaps the blame lies on Rams’ Pro Bowl defensive-end Robert Quinn, who thrashed Brown in the Saints’ 27-16 loss in St. Louis to the tune of four sacks and a forced fumble.
Of course a lot of credit should be given to Sean Payton, who was willing to pull the trigger on this untested rookie out of Arkansas – Pine Bluff in week 16 with a playoff berth on the line.
After one start, though, it looked like the trigger had been pulled a hair too early. What seemed like a case of early jitters plagued Armstead (giving up two sacks and various pressures) during the 17-13 loss to Carolina, albeit against what could be against the best overall defensive line in the league. Despite the nerves, Armstead never looked physically unable to handle the task in front of him.
In his second start, he showed how good he could be when comfortable.
Facing an underrated Tampa Bay front seven, Armstead settled in and controlled a talented defensive end in Adrian Clayborn for most of the game. Everyone on the Saints offense was impressed with Armstead’s improvement, and linebacker Junior Galette even went as far as to say he was the most athletic lineman he had ever faced (in practice, of course).
He had perhaps his best game of the shortened season against Philadelphia in the wild card round of the playoffs. The offensive line as a whole stood up tremendously against the Eagles, and Armstead held Pro Bowl pass rusher Trent Cole to a pedestrian five tackles (Cole’s one sack was not attributed to Armstead). Cole, who is a rare breed of speed and power, seemed befuddled by Armstead’s ability to match his movements.
As the game slows down for Armstead it’s exactly that athleticism that will benefit the Saints offense. A lot has been made about his record-setting 40 yard dash at the combine, but it’s the way he uses that speed that makes him unique. According to Draftmetrics.com, Armstead’s numbers in the main four categories — the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump and bench press — ranked among the top 10 percent for offensive tackles over the last 15 combines.
Standing at just over 6’ 5” and a couple donuts over 300 lbs, he move much more like a linebacker or fullback than an offensive tackle. Similar to Jerome Bettis, the man has feet like a dancer, and it’s hard to believe even the quickest of defensive ends will be able to get around him using speed alone.
He’s also an excellent blocker in-space, a crucial aspect in the Saints screen-heavy attack. What Armstead lacks in sheer size and wingspan is more than made up for in athletic ability and brute strength. It’s not hard to believe that Darren Sproles and the rest of the gang at running back will be foaming at the mouth for a chance to run slip-screens behind Armstead and the Pro Bowler Grubbs.
As with any young player there is plenty of room for improvement. Raw strength is one thing; however, being relatively light (for offensive tackle’s standards) could prove problematic when facing bull-rushes the likes of Julius Peppers or Charles Johnson. There’s also a bit left to be desired in the straight-up run game, but being the easier part of the game I have no trouble believing he will pick that up over time.
What he does best is protect the quarterback, which is good considering New Orleans’ franchise player stands at 6-foot-nothing (in cleats) and wears number nine on his chest.
As far as Armstead’s upside is concerned, there’s no doubt the Saints see him as an eventual all-pro. In fact, he’s been drawing some comparisons to his predecessor Bushrod.
Both stand around 6-foot-5, both played college ball at smaller universities (Bushrod at Towson, Armstead at Arkansas – Pine Bluff), and both were mid to late draft picks (Bushrod in the fourth round, Armstead in the sixth). Bushrod is heavier, however if you look at similar points in their careers Bushrod only outweighed Armstead by about 10 lbs in his rookie year.
Perhaps going into the 2013 draft the Saints saw Armstead as Bushrod 2.0 if you will, and that’s why they were so high on him coming into this year.
If Armstead stays on track, he’ll have the opportunity to follow in Bushrod’s footsteps: a Pro Bowl, a big second contract (hopefully with the Saints this time), and if all goes as planned – a Super Bowl.
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