Saints add kicker; name Armstead starter
(AP) — In addition to bringing in a new kicker for Sunday’s pivotal NFC South clash with Carolina, the Saints will have a rookie who hasn’t played a single offensive snap protecting Drew Brees’ blind side.
Sean Payton announced Wednesday that veteran Shayne Graham was New Orleans’ new kicker, and that Terron Armstead would get his first start at left tackle. The coach also asserted that the moves were aimed at improving performance at certain positions — not at getting the attention of his team after a 27-16 upset loss at St. Louis.
“These aren’t decisions you make for effect,” Payton said. “You don’t do that. At least we don’t.”
That doesn’t mean it didn’t have an effect.
“When you make a move like that, it’s telling everyone: ‘You’re accountable ... and when you don’t go out and execute and play the way you should play, then there are consequences,’” said middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, a defensive captain.
The Saints also have signed veteran safety Eric Frampton, who played under current Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in Dallas last season, and is expected to help on special teams.
New Orleans can capture its division crown and secure the No. 2 seed in the NFC by winning at Carolina. However, the Saints also could slide to a wild card spot with a loss, or even miss the playoffs by losing their last two games.
Graham, 36, replaces Garrett Hartley, who was released on Tuesday afternoon, two days after failing to convert two field goals against the Rams. Armstead assumed a starting role previously held by Charles Brown, who was benched during the second half of Sunday’s game.
Graham is a 12-year veteran who played at Houston last season. His last field goal try in the NFL was a converted, career-long 55-yarder at New England in a playoff loss on Jan. 13.
“It’s hard when you feel like you’ve done well and then you’re twiddling your thumbs for the next few months,” Graham said. “I’ve been training just as hard as if I was on a team, if not harder. So I don’t feel like there’s any physical concern ... and luckily there’s no playbook to learn.”
Armstead was a third-round draft choice out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. His pro playing career thus far consists of 17 special teams snaps and he’s been inactive for 10 games, but the Saints have high hopes for the 6-foot-5, 304-pound lineman with a quick first step and what Saints coaches consider to be exceptional athleticism for his size. Whether his blocking technique is refined enough to keep Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy — who has eight sacks — away from Brees remains to be seen.
Hardy he’d never heard of Armstead, but seemed impressed when informed he was a third-round pick.
“Geez, he got drafted higher than I did,” said Hardy, a 2010 sixth-round pick. “He’s got a good game, I guess. A little competition. It will be exciting.”
Payton said Armstead “has a pretty good feel of what we’re doing.”
“Certainly there’ll be growing pains when you play a young player,” Payton added. “I’m anxious to see him compete.”
Armstead said all he can do is his best, “ready or not.”
“I really don’t look at it as too much pressure. It’s what I came here to do,” he said. “I believe I made strides, technique-wise.”
Brees said he “won’t think twice about it other than making sure communication is really, really good.”
“You got to trust him, trust that he knows his job, he’s going to do his job and then you just roll,” Brees said.
Brown, who quietly changed at his locker right next to Armstead’s, politely declined interview requests.
Payton said it was hard, from a personal standpoint, to release Hartley, who made high-pressure kicks when the 2009 Saints won the Super Bowl.
“When you win a championship like that, there’s a little bit stronger bond between everyone on that team,” Payton said.
This season, however, Hartley was 22 of 30, with all eight of his misses coming from inside 50 yards. On Sunday, his 36-yard attempt was blocked and his 26-yard attempt was hooked left.
“He’s an extremely talented player. He’s going to play in this league, I think, for quite a long time,” Payton said. “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.”
Payton said coaches sometimes can make changes in practice or with game plans to help certain players when they struggle, but noted, “It’s a little bit more nebulous when it comes to the confidence of a kicker.”
AP Sports Writer Steve Reed in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.