Hartley: ‘It’s been an honor to wear the Black & Gold’

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON– New Orleans Saints kicker Garrett Hartley (5) and New Orleans Saints quarterback Luke McCown (7) watch a good extra point during a NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Dallas Cowboys in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013.

After being cut by New Orleans on Tuesday and clearing waivers Wednesday, kicker Garrett Hartley logged onto his Twitter account and wrote that “it’s been an honor to wear the Black & Gold.”

“I have been blessed with the opportunity that the (Saints and) ownership have given me,” Hartley told his followers on the social media service. “The memories that were made with this team will live in my heart forever! I can’t say enough for my teammates and their support.

“And finally the Who Dat Nation. Y’all’s passion for the game and this team (is) second to none.”

In his sixth season with New Orleans, Hartley missed a 26-yard field goal and had a 36-yard kick blocked during the Saints’ 27-16 loss in St. Louis this past Sunday. He was 22-of-30 for the season and found himself among the NFL’s least-accurate kickers when the Saints waived him and signed free-agent veteran Shayne Graham to replace him.

It was an abrupt end to Hartley’s time with the Saints, whom he had kicked into their only Super Bowl with a 40-yard, overtime winner in the 2009 NFC Championship Game. He subsequently made three field goals in the Super Bowl and helped New Orleans capture its first-ever major pro sports title.

Hartley’s father, Bill, told The Advocate late Tuesday night that his son had owned a home in the New Orleans area and loved becoming a part of the community.

“He has a lot of friends in New Orleans,” Bill Hartley said. “He’s been good for the Saints, and the Saints have been good for them. It was a good arrangement.

“I think he represented the Saints well, and we are very proud he was a part of the Super Bowl team.”

Saints’ Bush only player to miss Wednesday’s practice session

Only one player was held out Wednesday when the Saints returned to practice to begin preparing for Sunday’s huge NFC South showdown with the Carolina Panthers inCharlotte,N.C.

Safety Rafael Bush, who plays in the dime package, did not work because of an ankle injury that has kept him out of the past two games. His availability for Sunday’s game is unknown.

Only three players were listed as having limited participation in practice — LB Keyunta Dawson (calf), SS Roman Harper (hip) and TE Josh Hill (hamstring).

Dawsonhas been sidelined for the past three games after being injured just before the team’s Dec. 2 game with the Seattle Seahawks. Hill missed last week’s game with the St. Louis Rams after leaving the game with the Panthers on Dec. 8 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

For the Panthers, TE Greg Olsen (toe) and RB Jonathan Stewart (knee) did not practice, while WR Steve Smith (finger) was limited.

Drew Brees expresses support for Armstead and says his ‘heart hurts’ over for Hartley’s departure

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton talks with quarterback Drew Brees (9) on the sidelines in the first half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Scott Eklund) ORG XMIT: OTK

Saints quarterback Drew Brees on Wednesday expressed his confidence in newly-minted starting left tackle Terron Armstead and admitted his “heart hurts” for kicker Garrett Hartley, who helped New Orleans win Super Bowl XLIV but had missed eight field-goal tries this season and was waived Tuesday.

Asked what he might tell rookie Armstead as he prepares for his first career start at Carolina on Sunday, Brees said, “‘Here we go, big fella. Here’s your opportunity, and I’m behind you 100 percent.’ I have a ton of confidence in him.”

Brees also said Hartley’s abrupt departure from the Saints shows every player under coach Sean Payton is “always on the hot seat.”

“Your heart hurts for him,” Brees said. “We’ve all been there. It’s kind of a shakeup, but it’s a wake-up call to all of us that any of us could be next if we’re not getting the job done.

“We have to prove week in and week out that we belong and that we can help this team win.”

The 6-foot-5, 304-pound Armstead will slide in for four-year veteran Charles Brown, who was benched early in the second half of the Saints’ 27-16 setback to St. Louis, Payton announced Wednesday. He had just given up a sack that resulted in a lost fumble by Brees.

It was the second of two sacks he gave up to Rams defensive end Robert Quinn. Brown also was called for holding and had an illegal-use-of-hands penalty that nullified an 8-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Lance Moore.

That would have reduced a 21-point deficit to 24-10 at halftime. But New Orleans instead had to settle for a 36-yard kick, which Hartley drove low and had blocked.

Hartley later missed a 26-yard field-goal attempt late in the game. He was 22-of-30 for the season and ranked among the least-accurate kickers in the NFL when the Saints let him go and signed free-agent veteran Shayne Graham to be his replacement.

It was a shocking end to Hartley’s tenure with the Saints, whom he had kicked into their only Super Bowl with a 40-yard, overtime winner in the 2009 NFC Championship Game. He subsequently made three kicks in the Super Bowl and helped New Orleans capture its first-ever major pro sports title.

The Saints (10-4) can win the NFC South title and clinch the No. 2 seed in their conference for the playoffs if they beat Carolina, who is 10-4, 6-1 at home and eager to avenge a 31-13 loss in New Orleans on Dec. 8.

“Now, we buy in, we move on and we get ready to win a big football game,” Brees said.

Meanwhile, in Carolina, Armstead doesn’t seem to be striking much fear in the heart of the man he’s matching up against, defensive end Greg Hardy, who has eight sacks this season.

Hardy reportedly told Carolina media that he’d never heard of Armstead, who attended Arkansas-Pine Bluff and was one of two third-round draft picks for the Saints this year and has only played on special teams in four games.

“What happened to the other guy?” Hardy supposedly said.

Saints’ Payton demotes Brown, Armstead to start at Carolina

New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Charles Brown makes blocks against Oakland Raiders Jack Crawford #91 at the Superdome during an NFL preseason game in New Orleans, Louisiana on Friday, August 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Layne Murdoch)

Three days after benching left tackle Charles Brown in the third quarter of Sunday’s loss to the St. Louis Rams, Saints coach Sean Payton turned to rookie Terron Armstead to start this week’s crucial road game with the Carolina Panthers.

Armstead, the first of two third-round draft picks this spring, will make his debut at tackle Sunday after playing in just four of the team’s 14 games — all on special teams. He has played a total of 17 special-teams snaps.

The 6-foot-5, 304-pound Armstead takes over for Brown, who was benched after the opening possession of the second half of their 27-16 setback to the Rams ended with Brown giving up a sack that resulted in a lost fumble by Drew Brees.

A four-year veteran, Brown gave up a pair of sacks to Rams defensive end Robert Quinn and was also penalized twice on the Saints previous drive before halftime.

Brown had a holding penalty and then was flagged for illegal use of hands which nullified an 8-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Lance Moore. That would have trimmed a 21-point deficit to 24-10 at halftime, but his mistake was magnified when Garrett Hartley’s 36-yard field-goal try was blocked.

Hartley, who also missed a 26-yard field-goal attempt late in the game, was released Tuesday.

Brown started all 14 games this season after winning the starting job in training camp. He won out over Armstead and veteran Jason Smith to take over for two-time Pro Bowl pick Jermon Bushrod, who left the Saints in the offseason as an unrestricted free agent.

“I think Terron has improved during the course of the season — be it taking scout team reps, or some work with the offense,” Payton said during his daily news conference. “It’s time to see what he can do.”

Armstead, who starred at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, was the 75th overall pick of the draft after recording a time of 4.71 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine — the fastest time ever posted by an offensive tackle.

“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 the right way in a professional manner. It’s the nature of the business.

“Again (it was) a decision based on just looking at a lot of snaps and looking at consistency and the things we’re looking for. 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.”

Armstead will have his hands full in his first NFL start against the Panthers, who, at 10-4, share the NFC South lead with the Saints. He’ll go up against right defensive end Greg Hardy, who has eight sacks this season and 26 for his four-year career.

Payton acknowledged it’s a tough spot to put Armstead in, but noted that it would be a challenge regardless of the opponent.

“When you’re a tackle, probably each week, pick a team and you’re going to have a good challenge,” Payton said.

Payton said that right tackle Zach Strief, who moved to the left side when Brown was removed from last week’s game, will start at his regular spot.

Bryce Harris, who was inserted into the game at right tackle on Sunday, will continue as a backup and also get some snaps as an extra tight end for blocking purposes.

Payton also officially announced that Hartley and cornerback Chris Carr were released Tuesday. The team signed kicker Shayne Graham, a 13-year veteran, and safety Eric Frampton to take their spots on the active roster.

New Saints arrival Eric Frampton has been special-teams standout in NFL

Eric Frampton (From Dallas Cowboys website)

After Saints coach Sean Payton on Wednesday announced that left tackle Charles Brown would be benched in favor of rookie Terron Armstead and veteran free-agent kicker Shayne Graham would replace the waived Garrett Hartley, much attention will be paid to those two topics.

But Saints fans shouldn’t overlook a third personnel move that Payton revealed: the signing of free-agent safety Eric Frampton, brought in to bolster New Orleans’ special-teams kicking coverage. Frampton will occupy the roster spot vacated by backup cornerback Chris Carr, waived on Tuesday.

Frampton stood out in Dallas last season by getting in on 21 tackles and a recovering a fumble on special teams, when the Cowboys defense was under the command of coordinator Rob Ryan, who’s now with the Saints. He also played in 10 games for a defense that was plagued by injuries and started at strong safety for two contests, getting in on 18 tackles and breaking up two passes in his only season with Dallas.

The Cowboys released Frampton with an injury settlement in September after he hurt his groin the previous month.

In 2011, when he was with the Minnesota Vikings, Frampton recorded a career-high 22 tackles on special teams and was voted the unit’s most valuable player.

Oakland selected Frampton out of Washington State in the fifth round of the 2007 draft — Ryan was the Raiders’ defensive coordinator at the time. The Raiders cut Frampton prior to the start of the season.

Frampton was then in Detroit briefly before landing in Minnesota for the next 4 1/2 seasons.

Payton said Frampton would miss practice on Wednesday morning because he wouldn’t arrive in New Orleans until the afternoon. The Saints (10-4) are preparing to visit divisional rival Carolina (10-4) on Sunday.

If the Saints win, they’ll clinch the NFC South pennant, the No. 2 seed in their conference and a first-round bye in the playoffs. They’ll also have home-field advantage in the divisional round of the playoffs.