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John DeShazier: Terron Armstead 'loves the challenge' of starting at left tackle

Rookie will get his first test against tough Carolina defense

Even when Charles Brown emerged as the New Orleans Saints' starting left tackle from a training camp battle that featured Brown, veteran Jason Smith and rookie Terron Armstead, the third-round draft pick didn't give up.

"I've never stopped competing, since training camp," Armstead said Wednesday. "I've been trying to push Charles. Charles is a really, really good player. He teaches me a whole lot, him and (right tackle) Zach (Strief), so I've been competing since I got here."

So Armstead didn't appear shocked at all Wednesday, after he learned he'd been elevated to the starting lineup and will make his debut Sunday, when the Saints (10-4) play Carolina (10-4) at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

If the Saints win, they'll take the NFC South Division title and the No. 2 playoff seed.

Armstead, a 6-foot-5, 304-pounder out of Arkansas-Pine Bliff, will open against one of the league's most formidable defenses, one that has produced 45 sacks, including a combined 17 from defensive ends Greg Hardy (eight) and Charles Johnson (nine).

"This is what I've been preparing for week to week," said Armstead, a third-round draft pick. "I don't think it'll be too tough. Of course, it's different from practicing but I think I'll be ready."

The Saints are counting on that from Armstead. Brown struggled in the last game, against St. Louis, and was replaced by Strief in the second half. Bryce Harris took over right tackle for Strief, who will return to right tackle with Armstead entering the lineup.

"I felt like there were a handful of things that we did a few years ago that we struggled in protection against with St. Louis," Coach Sean Payton said. "We learned a lesson as coaches and we went into this game with a pretty good plan with regards to how we wanted to handle certain type of rushes.

"I think Terron has improved during the course of the season, be it taking scout team reps, some work with the offense, and it's time to see what he can do. I visited with Charles (Wednesday) morning; of course, he's disappointed, as he would be. I'm sure he'll respond the right way and handle this the right way, in a professional manner. It's the nature of the business.

"It was a decision made based on looking at a lot of snaps and looking at the consistency and the things we're looking for. I think there were a handful of things that happened in that game the other day that really prohibited us from having some type of success. It wasn't just one player. There were a lot of hands that were in that mud, including mine. But this is something that I think is necessary right now, for us."

Armstead, who has been inactive 10 games and primarily has played on special teams in the four games he has been active, said he's comfortable in his new status.

"Drew's cadence is a little faster than Luke's," he said of starting quarterback Drew Brees and backup Luke McCown. "So it took me a couple of plays to get acclimated to it. But I feel comfortable.

"I really don't look at it as too much pressure. It's what I came here to do, to play. It hasn't happened until now so I just have to take advantage of my opportunity."

Brees said he has full confidence that his blind side will be protected.

"I'm excited for him," he said. "He's continuing to improve each and every day. Throughout training camp and into the season I think he's just been biding time, waiting for his opportunity. (It's) a great challenge for him, but a great opportunity. I've got a lot of confidence in him. He was excited as well."

Payton said there was consideration to move Strief to left tackle, but that elevating Armstead "sets up a little better for us."

"He's athletic, he's someone who has a pretty good feel for what we're doing," Payton said. "Certainly, there will be growing pains when you play a young player like that and yet … I think he's smart, I think he'll prepare and study and do all the little things. I think he'll get great support by that room, it's a pretty close room. I'm anxious to see him compete."

Payton isn't the only one looking forward to it.

"I love the challenge of it," Armstead said. "That's why I play football."

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