Saints to start Terron Armstead at LT

METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton announced another bold roster move Wednesday, naming rookie Terron Armstead as the starting left tackle for Sunday's crucial road game against the Carolina Panthers.

Armstead hasn't played a snap on offense this season and has appeared in only four games on special teams. But after starter Charles Brown struggled so badly at St. Louis in Week 15, Payton said, "It's time to see what he can do."

This was Payton's second bold move of the week. On Tuesday, the Saints released longtime kicker Garrett Hartley along with backup cornerback Chris Carr and signed veteran safety Eric Frampton to help on special teams. Veteran kicker Shayne Graham was officially signed Wednesday.

The Saints drafted Armstead in the third round out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff after he dazzled in pre-draft workouts and all-star games. The 6-foot-5, 304-pounder ran the fastest 40-yard dash time by an offensive lineman in the history of the NFL scouting combine (4.71 seconds). He also registered the highest vertical leap of any offensive lineman this year (34.5 inches).

"I think Terron's improved during the course of the season, be it taking scout-team reps, some work with the offense," said Payton, who added that it's harder for backup offensive linemen to rotate into games than other position groups.

Although second-year pro Bryce Harris has played more snaps as the backup swing tackle and jumbo tight end this season, Payton said the Saints have always envisioned Armstead as a backup left tackle and Harris as more of a right tackle.

"I don't know that there's that formula that, 'Hey, you're going to have to report as eligible for a year before you get called to the big leagues,'" Payton said of Armstead's lack of experience. "I think he's apt at playing the [left tackle] position and I think [he's] ready to play that position. I think naturally that's the position he plays."

When asked whether there was any hesitation about throwing Armstead into the lineup for the first time on the road against such a talented defense in such a big game, Payton was frank.

"There's all of those hesitations," Payton said. "And yet, I think that all those things are factored in."

Payton said the decision to release Hartley was "real difficult" after a six-year run that included Hartley's playoff heroics during the Saints' 2009 Super Bowl season. But it was one that he felt he had to make after Hartley missed two field goals against the Rams -- including a shank from 26 yards late in the game.

"He's an extremely talented player, he's going to play in this league, I think, for quite a long time and have success," Payton said. "And the way these doors kind of open and close, we just agreed that, 'Hey, right now, don't ever say never in regards to being back with the team.' But that being said, with what he's done and been a part of, it's difficult -- especially with the success he had in that run in '09.

"[Decisions like these] are a little bit more nebulous when it comes to the confidence of a kicker. I think he had a great week of practice last week, and yet it didn't manifest itself in the game. So, that was a tough decision. ... You spend a lot of time giving it thought, and ultimately you go with your gut."

The moves were obviously motivated by the Saints' poor performance in the 27-16 loss to St. Louis. But when he was asked whether part of his decision-making process was to remind players of the importance of this week's game at Carolina, Payton said no.

"These aren't decisions you make for effect. You don't do that. At least we don't," said Payton, who was also asked how he thinks players will view the moves.

"I can't speak for the players. But this is an important game this week. We have a chance to become division winners, a chance to become the 2-seed. All of that right here, this game. I think spirits were down after the loss [at St. Louis]. I think our guys are pretty resilient, though. We'll bounce back. And I think they all understand the nature of this business."