Terron Armstead

New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead (72) runs through drills during NFL football practice in Metairie, La., Tuesday, June 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) ORG XMIT: LAGH101

Gerald Herbert

Terron Armstead is getting close.

Close to full strength, arguably closer than he's been at any point since the first four games of the 2015 season, before a knee injury suffered against Dallas put Armstead in a battle against lower-body pain that lasted for the better part of two years.

Then Armstead tore a shoulder labrum during a June practice, robbing him of the chance to open this season in the starting lineup. Willing to do whatever it takes to get on the field, Armstead has rehabilitated a month ahead of initial projections and might take the field against Detroit.

"It feels great," Armstead said. "I've been excited all week, got a chance to get team reps."

Armstead was initially projected to miss four to six months when he suffered the injury. 

If he plays Sunday, it will be almost four months to the day since the injury. Armstead, who hates to miss time, has been ahead of schedule the entire way. 

"He's been a quick healer, and jeez, he's worked extremely hard to get himself to this point," offensive line coach Dan Roushar said. "He's doing all the right things."

The shoulder injury has also given Armstead's leg time to fully heal. When he returned to the practice field for summer practices, his knee wasn't quite back to full strength yet. 

"100 percent now," Armstead said. "I’ve been having some lower body issues these past few years, and that’s feeling really good right now."

The remaining obstacle Armstead faces is catching up to players months ahead of him in terms of snaps played this season.

Without training camp, preseason games or any regular-season action, Armstead knows he has to find a way to make up for lost time.

"I’m jumping into it after the first quarter of the season, and guys have kind of worked out their kinks from whatever it is, technique, conditioning," Armstead said. "That’s definitely a little tougher, but I understand that and no one’s going to care that I haven’t had training camp or anything, so if I’m out there, I’m going 100 percent."

Armstead returned to practice in London, but the rigors of the NFL season and rules in the collective bargaining agreement essentially make it impossible for teams to go live in practice the way they can in training camp.

Armstead and the Saints' coaches and training staff have tried to simulate the action as best they can, but it's not the same. 

"I haven’t played football in a while, since going on IR last year, so it’s been a while playing real football, live bullets like I would get Sunday or whenever I return," Armstead said. "That’s definitely a huge challenge, and then the weakness that I’m dealing with with the shoulder being repaired. It’s a challenge, but I’m up for it."

When Armstead's at full strength — and sometimes even when he's not — he's proven he can be one of the NFL's best left tackles, which is why the Saints signed him to a five-year, $66.671 million extension in 2015.

New Orleans could use that kind of talent right now. With Zach Strief sidelined for at least eight weeks with a knee injury suffered against Miami, there's a spot open at tackle, and placing Armstead on the left side would allow the Saints to keep rookie Ryan Ramczyk on the right side and keep Andrus Peat at left guard.

“He brings such a presence and confidence to the group," quarterback Drew Brees said. "We know what a good player he can be when he is healthy, and obviously he has battled that the last couple years."

But the Saints' need hasn't put any extra pressure on Armstead to come back faster than he's ready.

"I want to play anyway,' Armstead said. "The pressure has been on me since my injury."

Whether Armstead returns Sunday against Detroit is up to Saints coach Sean Payton, and the decision-making process is simple. After consulting with Armstead and the medical staff, Payton will be watching in practice this week to make one remaining determination.

"Just that he can operate and do his job effectively," Payton said. 

Armstead has been pushing hard to get back to that point.

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.