Back in training camp, Zach Strief handed Terron Armstead the kind of praise that can be hard to live up to.
Three years of working with Armstead convinced Strief, another tackle, to say the third-year player, under the radar at the time, essentially had no limits to where his career might go.
Armstead is making Strief look like a pretty solid talent evaluator so far.
With the New Orleans Saints in their bye week, Armstead is making a name for himself, repeatedly named as one of the top three or four tackles in football so far.
And he’s doing it despite playing with a lingering knee injury that kept him out of two games and forced him to miss the entire week of practice leading up to the Saints’ loss to Washington last week. Always praised for his athleticism after the Saints drafted him out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Armstead is proving he has the head to match as he steps into the lineup each week with a knee that is far from 100 percent.
“It’s kind of hard to say (how much the injury has limited me),” Armstead said. “It’s been a challenge. I can’t say what percentage I am.”
Armstead’s athleticism is what gives him the initial edge. The 4.71-second 40-yard dash he ran at the NFL combine remains a record for linemen, and Armstead’s quick feet allow him to make decisions as he sets to pass block that few other offensive tackles can match.
It also opens up the Saints offense. Armstead, when healthy, is frequently used as a pulling weapon to get to defenders in the secondary, making the screen a devastating proposition for a cornerback or safety in the open field.
“Obviously, I think he is a real good athlete,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “There are some things that you are able to do because of that athleticism.”
A knee injury, no matter how tough Armstead has been playing through the pain over the past four weeks, robs a player of some of that athletic advantage. But Armstead makes up for that with his preparation.
Saints defenders who have to take on Armstead in practice say he’s difficult to beat because he has gotten so good at the mental game. Armstead is constantly changing up his tactics — sometimes “ankle-setting” back to pick up a rusher in the traditional manner, sometimes “jump-setting” and attacking the defender with a punch to take his momentum before it gets started.
Armstead also spent the offseason learning to better pick up tendencies in opposing pass rushers and identifying what defenses are trying to disguise.
All of that work in the offseason has paid off since he injured his knee against Dallas. He hasn’t been forced to change his style of play much.
“Not really,” Armstead said. “I just try to play smarter over these past few weeks. I don’t think I’ve really changed much.”
Armstead, who has given up only one sack according to film study done by The Advocate and been flagged just four times, had to play without practicing for the first time in his career against Washington, a product of the lingering nature of his knee injury.
And that means the bye week is coming at the perfect time.
“Health-wise, it’s a good thing,” he said. “It gives guys another week to get healthy.”
Including the anchor of the offensive line.