METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' decision to thrust untested rookie Terron Armstead into the starting left tackle job is obviously a bit of a stunner -- especially considering that it's Week 16 and it's such a critical game against the Carolina Panthers. And I certainly don't know what to expect from Armstead, since we haven't really seen him in action since the preseason.
But at this point, Armstead is probably as good an option as any other. Among the alternatives: sticking with Charles Brown after benching him in the middle of last week's loss at St. Louis; moving Zach Strief over from right tackle; or promoting Bryce Harris, who has slightly more experience but projects as more of a right tackle.
I know this: Coach Sean Payton made the move with conviction on Wednesday. And it's not like Armstead is a complete unknown. Heading into training camp, there was an assumption that the dynamic athlete from Arkansas-Pine Bluff might be talented enough to compete for the starting spot before it became clear that Brown had a stranglehold on the job.
Plus, we have seen the Saints have success in the past when young left tackles have been thrown into the fire.
It happened with Jermon Bushrod late in the 2009 preseason after Jammal Brown was injured. It also happened with Strief during his rookie season in 2006, when he played great in a spot start at left tackle at Tampa Bay. And it obviously happened with four-time All-Pro guard Jahri Evans, who earned a starting job as a rookie out of Bloomsburg University.
“Players get injured and thrust and put into positions,” Payton said of Armstead's lack of experience. “I think it falls on all of us to help him have success, including Charles [Brown]. And I think that his teammates will make sure they do everything they can to make sure he's in a position to have success. We will as a coaching staff. ...
“He's athletic. He's someone who has a pretty good feel of what we're doing. Certainly there'll be growing pains when you play a young player like that. And yet, it's a guy like him who's been around now for eight months, nine months in our program. But I think he's smart. I think he'll prepare and study and do all the little things. I think he'll get great support by that room. It's a pretty close room. So I'm anxious to see him compete.”
It's safe to say everyone is. This move made the Saints' kicker switch from Garrett Hartley to Shayne Graham feel like small potatoes by comparison. This one will have a huge impact on the Saints' success against a Carolina defense that features two awfully good pass-rushers in Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy.
But I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Armstead hold up well, based on the past history of young linemen in this offense. And I know he'll get help from chipping tight ends and double teams.
As for Brown, it's also hard to predict what the future holds for him, since he's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. The former second-round draft pick from USC was having a decent season in his first year as the starter. Some highs and some lows -- but he certainly never struggled as badly as he did against Rams star Robert Quinn (allowing two sacks and a hit that forced an interception and committing two costly penalties).
“I visited with Charles this morning,” Payton said. “Of course he's disappointed, as he would be. I'm sure he'll respond the right way and handle this the right way in a professional manner. And it's the nature of the business. And again, a decision based on just looking at a lot of snaps and looking at consistency and the things we're looking for. And I think there were a handful of things that happened in that game the other day that really prohibited us from having some type of success.
“And I said this after the game, it wasn't just one player. There was a lot of hands that were in that mud, including mine. But this is something that I think is necessary right now for us.”