Saints’ Terron Armstead tackles new challenge

METAIRIE — Minutes after being chosen by the New Orleans Saints in the third round of the draft last month, Terron Armstead wasn’t about to anoint himself as a possible successor to two-time Pro Bowler Jermon Bushrod at left tackle.

At the same time, the physically imposing former University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff standout wasn’t thinking about spending a lot of time watching from the sideline.

“I really don’t see myself sitting out,” said Armstead, a three-time All-Southwestern Athletic Conference selection. “I love to play. I love the game of football. I love being on the field, and I have a problem sitting on the bench.

“I know I have a lot to learn, and I’m willing and ready to learn as fast as I can — as fast as I possibly can — to get on the field.”

It’s still early in the process, but Armstead has already gotten a shot to show what he can do in his bid to nail down the starting job that opened up after Bushrod signed with the Chicago Bears.

After watching newcomer Jason Smith get the first-team repetitions in the first week of organized team activities, Armstead moved up to the first unit this week for the final practice sessions before an important full-squad, three-day minicamp begins Tuesday.

Saints coach Sean Payton said last week that he and his coaching staff would be rotating players at some positions to give them equal opportunity during OTAs, but there’s no doubt the 6-foot-5, 304-pound Armstead has designs on making that spot his home.

In addition to Smith, the No. 2 pick in the 2009 draft by the St. Louis Rams, the Saints also have Charles Brown, a second-round pick in 2010, vying for Bushrod’s old job.

Smith worked with the second team Thursday, while Brown, who was plagued by injuries his first three seasons, took the third-team reps.

“I’ve been a starter for four years, so it’s kind of hard not being on the field,” Armstead said. “I have to take care of the smaller stuff first.”

That includes learning the playbook, getting his technique down and making sure he knows what the play is when quarterback Drew Brees spits it out in the huddle.

“I guess Coach Payton wanted to see how I did working with Drew Brees,” a smiling Armstead said. “It’s a big step for me because Drew calls the plays really, really fast, and you have to get it all down. But it was fun being out there.”

Brees, who has been sacked an average of only 20 times per year since joining the Saints in 2006, said he has been impressed by what he has seen.

“It’s hard to say because we’re only two weeks in here,” Brees said when asked about the rookie’s ability, “but he’s been impressive thus far. It’s not only learning the scheme, but you’re learning a new technique and you have a new (offensive line) coach. It’s the speed of the game and the speed at which we operate offensively, which is a lot to take on in a short amount of time. But he doesn’t seem overwhelmed.”

Armstead said the biggest adjustment he has had to make is practicing with no pads because they never did that in college. While that was a big thing during a rookie minicamp earlier this month, he did admit that things became faster when OTAs started last week with the veterans on the field.

“There have been a lot of installs on the defense and some of the vets like (left guard) Ben Grubbs have helped me a lot, so we have been working well together,” Armstead said. “But the speed and the technique of the guys have turned up a lot more.”

Like Brees, right tackle Zach Strief has noticed the potential.

“He’s doing great,” he said. “Obviously he’s a good athlete, but he’s taking coaching really well, and he’s improving. That’s all you can ask for at this point — for a guy to get better.”

When the Saints chose Armstead, who had the fastest 40-yard dash time for an offensive lineman in the history of the NFL Scouting Combine at 4.71 seconds, Payton praised him for his athleticism. But he knows the learning curve will be greater for him because of the position he plays and the level of competition he faced in college.

“He’s demonstrated that he can compete at a high level,” Payton said. “He’s real athletic. He’s got good size. The challenge for linemen in the spring is we’re not in pads, so it becomes a little more mental than it does physical.

“When we get into training camp and all of a sudden we’re in a situation where he’s taking on live rushes, I think that’s when we’ll see more of an opportunity to improve. Right now, it’s just getting the calls down and getting the offense squared away.”