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John DeShazier: Saints see huge upside in Terron Armstead

He started four final games of 2013 at left tackle

Four starts – two in the playoffs – does not a Pro Bowler make.

Four NFL starts means that there remain more questions than answers about a player. But the New Orleans Saints like the left tackle who's taking the test for them.

Terron Armstead was a mostly inactive, little-used, rookie reserve from Arkansas-Pine Bluff when he got the call to start at left tackle in Week 16, on the road against Carolina. But in the final four games, including playoffs, the Saints ran the ball 30.5 times for 129.3 yards per game, and scored four rushing touchdowns.

Contrast that with this: During the regular season, in the 14 games Armstead didn't start, the team averaged 89.2 rushing yards per game on 23.6 carries per game, and scored eight rushing touchdowns.

Obviously, he wasn't the sole reason for the improved rushing game. But his addition to the line was an important part of it, and the Saints like where the ceiling could be for Armstead, a third-round pick last year.

"I'd say that he's made a lot of strides since the end of last year," said offensive line coach Brett Ingalls. "He had almost a full year of work before he got on the field and he played last year and yet, I think he's the kind of guy that studies what he does. He's conscientious, he's focused and I've already seen improvement, just in his confidence, No. 1.

"His background, coming from a smaller school, there were a lot of things that you see at this level that you hadn't seen at that level. So there was a lot of learning going on and I think that we did the right thing for his development by waiting, waiting, waiting and finally letting him get in there and do his thing."

Because of that, the Saints have a more confident player now working at left tackle.

"I feel like I have a different attitude," Armstead said. "I know where I belong now, just trying to continue to get better, continue to work so I can make everything go pretty smoothly.

"(Continuity) is huge, that's what we base ourselves on, rhythm and being able to work together cohesively, as a unit."

The cohesion will be easier to attain if Armstead remains on his upward trajectory.

Four games aren't a large sample size, but it's enough for the Saints to believe they have a very good player in their second-year lineman.

"He was productive," Ingalls said. "And when you look at the end of a game and you evaluate a game, certainly, there's going to be some failures. But he came back and he played well even after those failures.

"He was very productive. He's a very talented guy and I see a big, huge upside to him even from what we've seen so far. We're real excited about where he's at."

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