Arik Armstead is a big man with big potential.
When the 49ers made the Oregon defensive lineman their No. 1 pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, general manager Trent Baalke said the 6-foot-7, 292-pound former basketball player is “a tremendous athlete for his size and for that position.”
Armstead now has a chance to show what he can do when the Niners open training camp later this month.
But Armstead will be starting training camp at a disadvantage.
Because of the University of Oregon’s academic calendar, Armstead was unable to participate in most of the 49ers’ offseason practices and workout program. So, when he finally gets on the field, he’ll be playing catch up as part of a defensive line corps that is now without starting 3-4 defensive ends Justin Smith (retired) and Ray McDonald (released) but has multiple, versatile players such as Ian Williams, Glenn Dorsey, Tank Carradine, Darnell Dockett, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Quinton Dial, Kaleb Ramsey and Lawrence Okoye.
Most were able to take part in organized team activities (OTAs) and the June, full-squad minicamp and are ahead of Armstead in learning from new defensive coordinator Eric Mangini.
But Armstead is confident he has the skills to quickly assimilate. He says he’s met with Mangini and believes the 49ers’ system is similar to the one he played in with the Ducks.
“As a 3-4 end, your responsibility is different, you’re expected to take on bodies and keep guys off linebackers and also make plays yourself,” he said recently on a Sirius XM NFL radio interview. “I take pride in that. As a 3-4 end, we have to beat up offensive linemen, put our hands on them. My assets and my skills, with my length, it allows me to do that. I take pride in that.”
Paul Gutierrez, who covers the 49ers for ESPN.com, wrote recently that despite his missed time with the team this spring, it’s still possible that Armstead could earn a starting role this coming season, but noted that the team actually isn’t putting that much pressure on him “because that would mean their depth is not as quality as they believe.”
When Armstead does appear in his first exhibition games this summer for the 49ers, observers will want to see a consistent effort from the former Oregon standout. One of the criticisms of Armstead in college was that he didn’t play with a “high motor” and had a “tendency to disappear.” His stats, too, weren’t that impressive in college. In his final season at Oregon, he had 46 tackles and just 2½ sacks.
Armstead says he’s heard the critics and aims to prove them wrong.
“It’s fuel to the fire,” he told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s a little extra motivation.”