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John DeShazier: Robert Mathis will provide stern test for Saints left tackle Terron Armstead

Teams will meet at 7 p.m. Saturday

For 14 games Terron Armstead sat inactive last season during his rookie year with the New Orleans Saints – 10 of them, literally, as he wasn't included on the team's gameday roster.

But those 14 games very well could turn out to be the most important games of Armstead's career. And his career appears to have as high a ceiling as can be imagined of a 6-foot-5, 304-pound mountain of a man who has the feet of a dancer, the strength of a mauler and the speed – his 4.71-second 40-yard dash was the fastest time ever from a lineman at the NFL Scouting Combine – to get to the second and third levels of a defense bulldoze suspecting and unsuspecting defenders.

It's not that Armstead didn't want to play. Instead, it was critical that the former third-round pick (No. 75 overall) learn what he was supposed to do before he was given the opportunity to do it.

"Those 14 weeks being inactive helped me tremendously," he said. "Being able to pick up on play calls and how does this play supposed to look – just watching helped me out a whole lot.

"I was dying to get on the field, but I can look back now and say that it helped me."

It helped him help the Saints. And did he ever help the Saints.

Armstead joined the starting lineup in the 15th game of the season at left tackle, on the road against Carolina, and didn't leave it the final four games, including two in the playoffs. In the final three games of the season the Saints allowed four sacks and averaged 130.3 rushing yards; in the 15 games before that, they allowed 36 sacks and ran for 91.7 yards per game.

Not coincidentally, New Orleans won the first road playoff game in franchise history, a 26-24 victory in Philadelphia.

That success has helped Armstead gain confidence, but he has substantial room to grow.

"I understand I have a long ways to go still," he said. "I have made some progression in training camp and this offseason, but I still have a lot more to do as far as putting it on film and going against different guys."

One of his main nemesis/teachers in training camp has been outside linebacker Junior Galette, a speed rusher who totaled a career-high 12 sacks last season. Galette and Armstead battled one-on-one in pass-rush drills, one carrying the day this time and the other claiming victory the next.

In the process, each man gained a significant measure of respect for the other, with Galette saying that Armstead had feet as good as any lineman he has faced.

"It helps a whole lot," Armstead said of practicing against Galette, and the rest of the Saints defensive linemen. "We have a very good defensive line so going against Junior (Galette), (defensive end) Cam (Jordan), (defensive end) Akiem (Hicks), Glenn (Foster) or any of those guys, it helps a lot."

The training may come in handy Saturday night, when the Saints (2-0 preseason) play the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Colts defensive end Robert Mathis (19.5 sacks last year) perhaps is the premier pass rusher in the league, a sack-strip artist who has made a career of making offensive tackles look slow and helpless.

"He's very quick," Armstead said of Mathis. "He's the best of the best; his quickness, ability to play low and bend the edge. He's kind of the same skill set as Junior Galette. Being able to block and go up against Junior is a good look for Robert Mathis."

But there aren't many comparable looks to Armstead. It took 14 games for him to be ready to help the Saints offense. They may turn out to be 14 of the best games of his career.

They gave Armstead time to learn, and the lineman learned so well that he never left the lineup after he joined it. He still doesn't speak loudly, but he does speak a little more, possibly because he's carrying a big career in his hands.

"(It's my) comfort level, being in there with the guys every day and going through the grind with them more and more," Armstead said of his loosening up.

"I'm not shy. I like to observe a lot. I don't really say too much. I really didn't have much to talk about (last year). I was just trying to watch and learn."

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