Photos from Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon on Monday, August 10, 2015. Photos by Richard Crank (New Orleans Saints photos)
White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. – Zach Strief doesn't just think Terron Armstead can be really, really good NFL left tackle. Rather, Strief, who's entering his 10th NFL season, believes Armstead can be one of the best ever.
"He has no ceiling," Strief said.
If that's an exaggeration, it might not be much of one. To see Armstead (6 feet 5, 304 pounds) work at left tackle is to see a big, strong man blessed with the feet of a dancer, able to handle speed rushers and bull rushers, an on-the-rise talent (24 years old) who's poised to play his position, at the highest level well, for the next decade or more.
"It's huge to get feedback from a guy like Zach that has been around, seen a lot of guys," Armstead said. "It's really great for him to think that way about me.
"I just want to improve every day. Every time I step on the field, just try to get better."
Armstead's NFL ascension has resembled those speed rushes that he smoothly manages to ward off. The former Arkansas-Pine Bluff star was a third-round draft pick (No. 75 overall) by the Saints in 2013 who appeared poised to register a redshirt season as a rookie.
He was inactive for 10 regular-season games and a special teamer in four before New Orleans' coaching staff finally grew disillusioned with veteran left tackle Charles Brown.
Armstead was promoted to the starting lineup in the 15th game – Dec. 22, 2013, on the road against Carolina, which boasted defensive end bookends (Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson) who finished that season with a combined 26 sacks (15 by Hardy, 11 by Johnson).
He and his offensive line mates weren't stars during his baptism (the Saints lost 17-13, and Drew Brees was sacked six times), but the Saints ran for 126 yards, dominated time of possession (38:48-21:12) and Carolina needed to score a touchdown in the final minute to win the game.
New Orleans has been set at left tackle since.
"I was excited," Armstead said. "I was overly excited. Being inactive for most of the 14 weeks, finally getting the call up, I was so excited I didn't really understand everything that goes on in an NFL game. Crowd noise – I didn't know how much that played into a game. Coming from a small school, I never had to deal with that. There were some things that were different but I think I adjusted pretty well.
"I settled in, got a lot more comfortable with the play call and snap count. My first start, I went the wrong way a couple of times, Drew was calling the play so fast. But playing with him every day and getting used to his verbiage, that definitely has slowed down for me."
Armstead only has gotten better. Granted, he possesses the gift of outlandish athletic ability – at the NFL Combine, he set a record for offensive linemen with a 4.65-second 40-yard dash. But he also has been willing to put in the required work.
"He has made, and I am sure (he will) continue to make strides," Coach Sean Payton said. "He is a 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. He is athletic, smart and I think his skill-set for that position is outstanding."
Said Armstead: "I can definitely say I've improved, more technique than anything. Just doing it, getting more and more reps has helped out a lot.
"I've been working on it all offseason, any and every chance I get I've just been working on it, trying to make it easier for me once we get into team drills."
Sometimes, it looks astoundingly easy for him. Sometimes, it looks like he has no ceiling, even though he says that he has a long way to go.
"I'm still learning every day," he said. "There are still a lot of things that I'm trying to improve on. The smaller details, I'm now getting into it."