METAIRIE, La. — When it was Terron Armstead’s time to come out of the tunnel at CenturyLink Field this past Saturday, he didn’t cower in fear.
No, he began waving his arms, calling for whichever fans could see him to scream louder, to snicker harder, to boo more vociferously than they already were doing.
It’s safe to say that the rookie no longer felt the situation was too big.
Or maybe he just wasn’t quite sure where he was and what was happening.
“We kind of laughed on the way home – I was sitting with coach (Bret) Ingalls – he runs out of the tunnel and he’s pumping the crowd up,” Saints right tackle Zach Strief said. “He doesn’t even know where he is. He thinks he’s at Pine Bluff right now. He doesn’t even know what he’s doing.”
He was far from Arkansas-Pine Bluff, a historically black college competing a much lower level than the NFL.
And yet, the attitude he brought into just his fourth career start, three of which were on the road, can’t be overlooked.
“That’s a reflection, I think, of some confidence and that’s his personality and I think you see that come out as guys have more confidence,” Strief said.
Armstead was New Orleans’ third-round pick in the 2013 NLF draft. But while he was seen as possibly the heir to the left tackle position, there was question as to whether he was NFL-ready coming out of Pine Bluff.
In training camp, he was beaten out by veteran Charles Brown, who would end up starting the first 14 games of the season. But after a disastrous game at St. Louis in which he was credited with giving up at least two sacks and a quarterback hurry that turned into an interception, the veteran was benched.
Payton inserted Armstead in his place, his first start coming at Carolina in a divisional battle. Adding to the drama was that Armstead would be forced to block the Panthers’ Greg Hardy, one of this season’s breakout stars along the defensive line.
Indeed, Hardy pounced, sacking quarterback Drew Brees three times. Two of them came against Armstead, who settled down in the second half.
He never became unsettled again, giving up just two more sacks in three games, none of which came in the playoff loss at Seattle.
“From the day he was inserted, certainly there are some growing pains, but he showed a lot just beginning with that Carolina game,” Payton said. “I haven’t looked completely at this film, but those are important pieces.”
The bonus with Armstead is that it gives the Saints a young piece that the coaching staff can be comfortable with while at the same time being cheap. This past season, he cost the Saints less than $700,000 against the cap in the first year of a four-year contract.
As much as he improved in his first four starts, Armstead will now have a full offseason with the team.
He already has the confidence of those who played with him this past season.
“I think he got better as he went,” Strief said. “I think his potential is almost limitless. I think he can be a really good football player.”