WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — The man who protects Drew Brees’ blind side is far from a household name.
Outside of New Orleans, Terron Armstead remains a little under the radar, only a few months removed from speculation that the Saints might kick him inside to guard to make room for Andrus Peat at the most prestigious position on the offensive line.
A move like that was never in the works. The Saints quietly believe Armstead is on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
“I am not going to use the word underrated, but man, I am telling you what, he has really done a lot of the things we look for and hope for when we drafted him in the third round,” coach Sean Payton said. “He is athletic, smart and I think his skill set for that position is outstanding.”
Armstead’s rise has been rapid.
Drafted in the third round out of Arkansas Pine-Bluff two years ago, Armstead took the job from Charles Brown late in his rookie year, then cemented his status as an up-and-coming pass protector with a sophomore season where he allowed just three sacks, offering a glimpse of his vast potential.
Now, in the time Armstead’s been on the field during his third training camp — he’s been limited with a minor injury this week, but he’s expected to return Sunday — the third-year tackle is establishing himself as the Saints’ best offensive lineman. Armstead has been dominant in 1-on-1 pass rush drills, swallowing even the team’s best pass rushers.
“I think he is what we thought he would be. It just took him a little time to get started,” offensive line coach Bret Ingalls said. “This guy here is a super athlete. This guy is different for the position. He’s a confident guy, and he’s a tough guy, and he’s a smart guy. All of it doesn’t surprise us.”
Armstead’s athleticism has always been eye-popping. The big tackle still holds the record for a 40-yard dash by an offensive lineman at the NFL Combine, a 4.71-second burst that followed eye-opening performances at the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl.
And when Payton asks the big guys to compete in unnatural acts like catching a Thomas Morstead punt or running something off of the Saints’ route tree, Armstead looks strangely natural, like an overgrown tight end right at home again.
The difference is that Armstead has learned to master the mental side of the game.
“I’ve got to continue to improve my eyes before the snap, seeing things, catching tendencies,” Armstead said this summer. “The fourth quarter. In the NFL, everybody’s so good, every game pretty much comes down to the fourth quarter, so I see that as when your best football’s got to be played. I’ve always trained pretty hard, but it’s about being smarter, being more focused.”
Being able to better identify stunts, twists and blitzes can take away the only element of doubt in Armstead’s game.
Armstead is supremely confident that he can line up across from a pass rusher in a one-on-one situation and shut him down, a belief backed up by his performance on the practice field so far. When he starts to identify all the wrinkles a defensive coordinator can throw at him on game day, Armstead will be hard to beat.
“It kind of slows the game down for you if you know something’s coming,” Armstead said. “That’s a thing Jahri Evans is so good at, he’s so smart about breaking down film, looking at guys. They kind of see stuff before it happens. It looks like they’re playing even faster, but they’re playing smarter.”
Individually, the next step is to push for a Pro Bowl berth, a recognition that he’s among the game’s best.
Not that Armstead is going to focus on a trip to Hawaii.
“I wouldn’t ever really say that,” Armstead said. “It would definitely be a blessing and an honor to be a part of that, but one of my goals is to win. Win the division first, get to the playoffs, and hopefully be able to play for a Super Bowl. That’s it.”
Armstead, at the moment, is focused on what he can do to take the next step.
His teammates have the ability to look a little further ahead and see what Armstead might become.
“Terron probably has every single attribute you’d look for in an offensive lineman,” right tackle Zach Strief said. “There is no ceiling. He could be one of the best of all time. He really could. I believe that very much.”
Armstead may not be under the radar much longer.