Will the New Coaching Staff Maximize Arik Armstead’s Full Potential?

Niners Live recently asked: How does 49ers’ D-Linemen Arik Armstead’s injury impact the 49ers’ 2017 draft? Now we turn our attention to:  Will the new coaching staff maximize Arik Armstead’s full potential? Was he an underachiever? Or over-coached and miss-utilized?

 

Arik Armstead, a first round pick in the 2015 draft, was seen as a project player who the team could develop in the mold of Arizona Cardinals’ defensive lineman Calais Campbell, 6’8” and 300lbs.  He played basketball in college, and his body was still molded like a basketball player’s.  The team knew he would have to increase his strength and work on maintaining his low pad level, which is crucial for tall defensive linemen.

The 6’7” and 292lbs Armstead headed into the 2016 season with high expectations; however, a shoulder injury ended his season prematurely. He had an up and down season while playing. Armstead held his own versus the pass, 73.2, but struggled against the run, 39.1 (per Pro Football Focus, subscription required).

Important to note: In 2016, in eight games he registered 15 total tackles, and two and a half sacks, via nfl.com.

Armstead, under former San Francisco 49ers’ coach Jim Tomsula and arguably one of the best D-line coaches in the NFL, was used more as an outside edge rusher his rookie season. Tomsula had a specific package/role for Armstead, instead of throwing him into the fire as an every down 3-4 defensive end. This plan was successful; he made the All-rookie team, and led the team in quarterback hurries with 29. His ratings against the pass was 76.3 and 78.8 against the run.  (Notice the big drop in ratings versus the run as aforementioned.)

This past 2016 season he played a more traditional 3-4 defensive end position but struggled to maintain his gap responsibility versus the run. Part of the reason for this was his eagerness to get up the field to pressure the passer à la his favorite bull rush technique, and his shoulder injury made it difficult to shed blockers once they were engaged.

Soon-to-be former 49ers’ defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil on Armstead, via Eric Branch of SFGate.com.

“When the shoulder kind of went on him, where he lost strength in that, he wasn’t the same player,” O’Neil said. “I do credit the kid for trying to fight through it. And trying to play to the best of his ability to try to help his teammates out. But he really wasn’t the guy he was in spring and in training camp that, as a staff, we felt would be a Pro Bowl, All-Pro-type difference-maker for our defense.”

Niners Live is interested to see if the new coaching staff will maximize Armstead’s tremendous upside and potential. It is yet to be determined what defense the 49ers will run in 2017 since the team hasn’t hired a new defensive coordinator yet.  He can play in a 4-3 or 3-4 alignment, but what is more important is if the new defensive coordinator will find ways to use his quickness/explosiveness off the line of scrimmage. He must be pushed in the weight room to increase his lower body as well as his upper strength at the line of scrimmage.

In closing:  The 2016 season is one that Armstead will want to put behind him quickly. He underachieved compared to his rookie season and only suited up for eight games, many of which he didn’t play the entire game because of his injury. The previous coaching staff did a poor job of putting him in the position to be successful on a consistent basis. Niners Live will be looking to see how he is utilized in the 2017 season. The Niners could have an intimidating defensive line with the pairing of Armstead and fellow Oregon alumni and All-rookie team player DeForest Buckner. But this is reliant upon Armstead taking his game to the next level, and a coordinator who understands how to maximize an individual player’s talents in his scheme. #eyeswideopen 

Bonus Niners Live side note: Armstead had successful surgery on the 15thof November 2016, which is coincidently is his birthday, he turned 23. Reports state that he should be ready for OTAs this coming April.

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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author Jimi Payne Staff Writer at Niners live.  Co-Author, Editor Niners Live.