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.