Arik Armstead was almost an invisible man to the 49ers during spring workouts. The team’s No. 1 draft pick from Oregon wasn’t permitted to practice with the team in organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp because Oregon’s academic year overlapped those dates.
But now the big defensive lineman is making up for lost time.
He worked out on his own and sharpened his conditioning and has come into 49ers training camp ready to earn playing time. The 6-foot-7, 292-pounder will be competing at defensive end in San Francisco’s 3-4 alignment, and the 49ers believe he’ll be the perfect player for the role. He played it at Oregon and is said by 49ers coaches to be solid fundamentally and with his techniques.
At Oregon he didn’t put up big sack numbers – just 2½ in 13 games his final year in Eugene – but tied up blockers, used his size and long arms to disrupt plays and allowed teammates to make tackles.
Already, 49ers GM Trent Baalke has seen enough to believe Armstead – though behind others in this training camp – has a huge upside.
Baalke told Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com that Armstead’s technique as a 3-4 defensive end makes him a rare player and perfect for the defensive line the way it was designed to be played under Jim Tomsula (now the head coach) the past several years.
“For us to play the type of defense we’ve played for the last six years with Jimmy T, we’ve got to have that ability,” Baalke said. “We’ve got to have those guys.”
One of Armstead’s new teammates also has been impressed. Former Arizona Cardinals standout defensive lineman Darnell Dockett, signed by the 49ers this offseason, says Armstead is “strong, fast, athletic, played basketball, and he listens. He’s going to be a dominant force for us.”
Dockett favorably compared Armstead to Calais Campbell, the Pro Bowl defensive lineman in Arizona, saying Armstead has a chance to be even better.
Armstead, meanwhile, is just excited to be on the field with his new teammates.
“I had to catch up the best I could by working out on my own, trying to get in the best shape I could and I had my iPad and chalk study as much as I can,” he told reporters. “I was a little bit behind not being able to do OTAs, but I’m excited to make those (exhibition) games and training camp.”
After losing veteran starting defensive ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, the 49ers certainly need Armstead to play up to his potential. But it should be very competitive for playing time on the defensive line with Dockett, Ian Williams, Glenn Dorsey, Quinton Dial, Tank Carradine, Tony Jerod-Eddie and Lawrence Okoye all fighting for status.