Niners Live provides some objective optimism in the case of Ray Ray Armstrong discussing his importance and role in the defensive plans of Robert Saleh.
What we already know
With all the turnover and reshuffling on the 49ers roster and coaching staff, it may behoove fans to keep a roster or maybe even a decoder ring within reach to identify some of these new names. Just like anything new and unproven on a team, there’s initially a level of uncertainty, lack of trust, and possibly problems playing as a team due to the unfamiliarity. Like any successful team, everyone (players and coaches alike) must work tirelessly, efficiently, and of the same accord to ensure everyone is in sync and knows their role.
Most narratives will push the common and comfortable narrative of, there isn’t much to look forward to due to lack of impact players. If you recall, objective optimism was mentioned earlier in the article. In the event you’re unaware of just what that is, come on and take this short tour of objective optimism to gain a better understanding.
Why Ray Ray Armstrong
Just as there was a lot of turnover with the roster, there were also plenty of carryovers. There are many players on the 2017 90-man roster that carried over from the 2016 team, most of which were capable of playing quality minutes. The coaching seemed to fall short, and most of the talent was misused, underutilized and under coached, which meant players were forced to play out of position as recently highlighted on January 25, 2017 on Niners Live. If this team is going to be competitive, all 53 need to play the proper role, stay healthy, and do their part if they’re going to occupy a spot on this roster. Yes, that includes Ray Ray.
As previously discussed at Niners Live in 49ers: What Ray-Ray Armstrong Can Bring to the Table, Armstrong is a very athletic weak-side (Will) linebacker and is a perfect fit in the 4-3 under scheme of Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh. Though he’ll compete for minutes with veteran Malcolm Smith and newly drafted rookie Reuben Foster, his ability to cover makes him valuable when playing coverage and he’s also good in run support, so he should see a fair share of snaps. Armstrong will most likely see the bulk of his snaps on late and obvious passing downs, but that’s his strong suit, so it’ll benefit the defense overall. His role will be simple, but important. When he gets his shot, he’ll have to play to his strengths, read the play, react to the play, find the ball and make a play.
Let’s do this. Just in case the depression of the 14 straight games we lost following that first win has caused you to forget how active he is when healthy and how well this defense plays while he’s on the field, let’s refresh your memory. Take a look at this video of Ray Ray and the 49ers defense flying around the field, playing fast, being disruptive, aggressive, and opportunistic in shutout fashion (28-0) against the Los Angeles Rams in week one of the 2016 regular season in which he recorded four tackles, one assist, one stuff, and one interception. Impressive stat line? No. But he was all over the field and his stats are nowhere close to indicative of the way he performed. From the looks of it, he’s 100% recovered from the chest injury that ended his season in week two of 2016.
The reasonable expectations
Speaking objectively, with multiple unknowns, unproven talents and new offensive/defensive schemes, it’s normal to prepare for a long season. Now for the good part of the tour. To be optimistic, there is a multitude of young, eager, and capable talent on this roster that possess that “dawg mentality” General Manager John Lynch requires in his players, and that was recently discussed on Niners live, and that some have argued help set the tone for the 2017 NFL draft. Four of those “dawg mentality” players are current and former first round draft picks named Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster. That’s what you call an instant upgrade in the recipe to return this defense to greatness.
If this front four plays to potential, filling gaps, drawing double teams, stopping the run, and getting to or hurrying the quarterback, it’ll allow the linebackers to focus on coverage and not have to blitz as frequently. This defense will be fun to watch, and will dominant sooner than later. When a team has to rely on blitzing linebackers to get pressure, it compromises the integrity of the coverage at the second level due to one less linebacker playing coverage. This leaves the defense vulnerable and opens space for completions, chunk yards, and even touchdowns. If you’ve ever found yourself asking the question, “How’d he get so open?” during a game, yep, you guessed it, the blitz failed and the quarterback found the open man because of it. Sadly, that’s been the case with the 49ers for far too long.
There is an abundance of talent on the 90-man roster. If the 49ers select the best 53, there should be neither reason nor excuse as to why there can’t be, on every snap, a combination of 11 formidable defenders on the field (including sub-packages). As recently stated by Kyle Shanahan following day one of OTA’s, “In my opinion, there’s gonna be a good player that’s not out there all the time” (via team website). Ray Ray is one of those players that won’t be out there all the time, but having him available will provide quality relief when starters aren’t on the field due to his ability to make plays affecting the run and passing game. Ray Ray is a spark plug, and plays with a high level of energy. The same energy that can be felt within the team. The energy same (and confidence) this organization has lacked in recent years, and it shows. This concludes the tour of objective optimism. Please join us again soon on Niners Live, the home of the fan and analyst.
As always, keep your eyes wide open, 49er fans. Niners Live will be watching with you. #eyeswideopen and often imitated but never duplicated… Go Niners.
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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Kevin Mitchell Staff Writer at Niners Live. Co-Author, Editor NinersLive.