“I really don’t look at it as too much pressure. It’s what I came here to do: play. It hasn’t happened until now, so I just have to take advantage of my opportunity.” TERRON ARMSTEAD, Saints tackle
Three days after benching left tackle Charles Brown in the third quarter of Sunday’s game with the St. Louis Rams, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton turned to rookie Terron Armstead to start this week’s crucial road game with the Carolina Panthers.
Armstead, a third-round draft pick this spring, will make his NFL debut at tackle Sunday after being inactive for 10 of the team’s 14 games.
He’s played only on special teams with a total of 17 snaps.
The 6-foot-5, 304-pound Armstead takes over for Brown, who was removed from the lineup by Payton after the opening series of the second half of a 27-16 loss to the Rams. It ended with Brown giving up a sack that resulted in a lost fumble by quarterback Drew Brees.
Brown, a four-year veteran, gave up two sacks to Rams defensive end Robert Quinn and was penalized twice on the Saints previous drive just before halftime.
Brown had a holding penalty and was flagged for illegal use of hands, which nullified an 8-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Lance Moore. That would have trimmed a 21-point deficit to 24-10 going to the locker room, and the mistake was magnified when Garrett Hartley’s 36-yard field-goal try was blocked and the Saints came away with no points.
“(It was) a decision based on just looking at a lot of snaps and looking at consistency and the things we’re looking for,” Payton said. “There were a handful of things that happened in that game that really prohibited us from having some type of success.”
Hartley, who also missed a 26-yard field-goal attempt late in the game, was released Tuesday.
Brown started all 14 games this season after winning the starting job in training camp over Armstead and veteran Jason Smith.
They were vying to replace two-time Pro Bowl pick Jermon Bushrod, who left the Saints in the offseason as an unrestricted free agent.
“I think Terron has improved during the course of the season — be it scout team reps, or some work with the offense,” Payton said during his daily news conference. “It’s time to see what he can do.”
“I really don’t look at it as too much pressure,” Armstead said. “It’s what I came here to do: play. It hasn’t happened until now, so I just have to take advantage of my opportunity.”
Armstead, who starred at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, was the 75th overall pick of the draft after recording a time of 4.71 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine — the fastest time ever posted there by a tackle.
“He’s athletic, and he’s someone who has a pretty good feel of what we’re doing,” Payton said. “There will be growing pains when you play a young player like that.
“Yet he’s a guy that’s been around now for eight months in our program. I think he’ll prepare and study and do all the little things. ... I’m anxious to see him compete.”
Right tackle Zach Strief, who moved to the left side when Brown was benched, will start in his regular spot, though Payton said they considered keeping him in Brown’s position.
Bryce Harris, who was inserted into the game at right tackle Sunday, will continue as a backup and get some snaps as an extra tight end for blocking purposes.
Armstead will have his hands full in his first start against the Panthers, who, at 10-4, share the NFC South lead with the Saints.
He will go against right defensive end Greg Hardy, who has eight sacks this season and 26 for his four-year career.
Payton said it’s a tough spot to put Armstead in, but noted it would be a challenge regardless of the opponent.
“When you’re a tackle, probably each week, pick a team and you’re going to have a good challenge,” Payton said.
Brees said he was excited for Armstrong.
“He’s continued to improve each and every day, obviously on the scout team, throughout training camp and into the season here,” Brees said. “I think he’s just been biding time, waiting for his opportunity.
“I won’t think twice about it other than making sure communication is really, really good. ... You’ve got to trust him, trust that he knows his job and is going to do his job — and then you just roll.”