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Terron Armstead, Josh Hill among Saints' players to build on

METAIRIE, La. -- With so much talk this season about the New Orleans Saints needing to learn how to do things the right way, I found it noteworthy that two young players were singled out Monday for being the right kind of guys with which to build.

Second-year offensive tackle Terron Armstead was praised in those terms by Zach Strief, and second-year tight end Josh Hill was praised by Sean Payton.

"I think Terron had a really good season, I think there was a ton of growth there. And look, he's the kind of guy that you say, 'Those are the guys we want,'" Strief said. "We want a guy like Terron, who's humble, works his butt off, wants to be good, does everything right, shows up ready to work. We can build off of a guy like Terron."

Armstead had a solid year that ended two weeks early because of a neck injury. He didn't necessarily have the breakout season that some of us projected during the preseason. But he held up well for a left tackle in his first full year as a starter and brought great stability to a position that needs it.

"I feel like I was improving with more and more experience. I've still got a ton of things to work on, which I plan on doing in the offseason. But I feel like I was improving," said Armstead, who said his neck injury won't require surgery -- just rest and rehab -- and hopes to be back to 100 percent in about a month.

Armstead said he learned most about what it takes to work through a 16-game season, from the toll it takes on your body to the film study it requires to be "as consistent as possible week in and week out." Not to mention that he routinely faces the NFL's elite pass rushers while protecting Drew Brees' blindside.

"I take it as a challenge," Armstead said. "Those guys are supposed to be the best pass-rushers on the team, and I want to be the best pass-blocker or run blocker."

Armstead was credited for allowing just three sacks by various statistical services (including the sack-fumble at the end of the San Francisco 49ers loss, when Brees admittedly held the ball too long). Armstead also got beat when Brees was pressured into interceptions against Detroit and Tampa Bay.

However, the 6-foot-5, 304-pounder is an outstanding athlete who set the record for the fastest 40-yard dash by a lineman at the NFL scouting combine (4.71 seconds) when he was coming out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Now that he has the growing experience, confidence and savvy to go with it, he should only continue to rise as one of New Orleans' best assets.

"Terron will be here for a long time," Strief said. "More than anything, you tell Terron, 'Keep doing what you're doing, and let the other stuff kind of fall.' The successes, the accolades, his development will come if he keeps doing what he's doing. I think certainly if you want to find a bright spot on the line this year, I think it's Terron."

Meanwhile, Hill played a much less high-profile role as a third-string tight end and core special teams player. But his efforts were no less appreciated.

"When you get a tight end that potentially is going to be your special teams player of the year, that's a good thing. ... It's not the norm," Payton said. "He's exactly what we're looking for, because each week you know exactly what you're gonna get. He's talented, he can run, he's young. But he's consistent, and those are the things that allow you to win."

The Saints used Hill sparingly on offense as a blocker and a pass catcher. He caught only 14 passes for 176 yards all season. But five of those catches went for touchdowns -- a classic example of the Saints making defenses pay for not being able to cover everybody on the field.

It's unclear if his role on offense will increase going forward or if the Saints will be content to use him in his versatile role going forward.

"He's one of those players, had he went to the combine he probably would have been drafted," Payton said of the 6-5, 250-pounder from Idaho State. "If you just took his numbers and plugged them in, height, weight, speed, vertical jump, broad jump, production, they're pretty impressive. He was a great addition for us, a great sign for us a couple years ago. ...

"I think it's hard to find a special teams player and a tight end to begin with like that, and then certainly to sign one as a free agent out of college would be unique."