But a player who quietly seems to be drawing the same level of excitement within the Saints’ organization is second-year left tackle Terron Armstead.
The supremely athletic big man has looked outstanding at times, especially during run-blocking drills on Thursday. And from talking with folks, I think the expectation is that he could not only be solid in his first full season as a starter – but ultimately develop into a really special player.
Coach Sean Payton agreed with that assessment, though he didn’t get carried away.
“Yeah. We’re not ready to put him in Canton yet. But he’s very athletic, and I would agree. He’s got a lot of the traits that you would look for at that position,” said Payton, who was impressed with how quickly Armstead matured after being thrown into the starting lineup in Week 16 last season.
“I think in a short period of time, Carolina [in Week 16], and then on to the next week, you saw a rookie player begin to emerge,” Payton said. “And by the time we were into the postseason, you began to see a player that was playing with confidence. And now clearly you’re seeing that. Now he knows what to do. He’s very athletic. And to his credit, he has made the adjustment and done a great job of competing. So that’s been a good sign.”
Armstead (6-foot-5, 304 pounds) admits he is most natural as a run-blocker after making the transition from Arkansas-Pine Bluff to the NFL last year as a third-round draft choice. And that has been evident on several plays.
But he has also looked pretty good in one-on-one pass-rush drills, even though another dynamic athlete, Junior Galette, has been giving him all he can handle.
And I’ll credit colleague Gus Kattengell for pointing out Armstead’s role in one of the biggest highlight plays of camp – Cooks’ screen-pass touchdown earlier in the week. On replay, you can see that Armstead helped clear Cooks’ path with a dominant seal block against safety Rafael Bush.
“You love everything you see. Not only just his talent, but you see it in his eyes,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “You see guys that when there is a big challenge ahead of them, you sense some fear, you sense some nerves. What I see with him is intensity and confidence, and that is what you love to see in a left tackle, ready for any type of challenge.”
Other players have noted Armstead’s confidence level, as well, including recently signed veteran center Jonathan Goodwin, who said, “You come in here and see his demeanor, he doesn’t look like a second-year player.”
And I feel like I’ve seen a much more confident version of Armstead in media interviews, dating back to the beginning of the offseason.
But when I asked Armstead about that Thursday, he said “comfort level” might be a better term than confidence.
“I’ve always had confidence. I wanted to start right away in Week 1 last year,” Armstead said, even though he admits he probably wasn’t ready.
“It’s definitely night and day [from the start of last year’s training camp],” said Armstead, who added that the game quickly started to slow down for him with each passing start he made at the end of last season.
“The terminology from Drew my first snap, I could’ve swore he was speaking Chinese or Spanish or something,” Armstead cracked.
Armstead’s athletic ability has always been “off the charts,” as Goodwin put it. He ran the fastest 40-yard dash time by an offensive lineman in the history of the NFL scouting combine (4.71 seconds) and registered a vertical leap of 34.5 inches.
But Armstead is hardly relying on that.
Right tackle Zach Strief said Armstead’s work ethic is impressive. He watches a ton of film and picks the brains of veterans. Armstead even reached out to former Saints Hall of Famer Willie Roaf (a Pine Bluff native) to talk shop and pick up some pointers this summer.
“He’s still very young,” Strief said. “But all the things you’d say that you want to see him do, he’s doing them.”