Oregon Ducks defensive end Arik Armstead bigger, stronger, more focused

Fentress one-on-one with Arik Armstead

Oregon Ducks defensive end Arik Armstead bigger, stronger, more focused
August 15, 2014, 1:45 pm
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Oregon defensive lineman Arik Armstead (9) against the Washington State Cougars at Autzen Stadium.

(Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports)

California Golden Bears quarterback Allan Bridgford (16) is knocked down by Oregon Ducks defensive lineman Arik Armstead (9) during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. Oregon won 59-17 - Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon Ducks defensive lineman Arik Armstead (9) tackles Kansas State Wildcats defensive end Ryan Mueller (44) in the end zone on a blocked extra point in the third quarter during the 2013 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. Oregon defeated Kansas State 35-17. Oregon would be rewarded with a 1 point safety. - Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

EUGENE – Arik Amstead came to Oregon in 2012 surrounded by as much fanfare and hype as any recruit in recent memory, and with the personal expectations of making a huge impact on both the football field and the basketball court.

So far, neither plan has come to fruition.

But Armstead’s journey is far from finished.

After ditching basketball last winter, Armstead dedicated his entire focus to football, and the result is a larger, stronger, more determined defensive end out to fulfill the promise that followed him to Eugene from Sacramento, Calif.

“My personal goals are still the same, to help my team as much as I can, be a key component of our defense and be dominant out there along with the rest of the guys on our defense,” Armstead said.

“Dominant” is the operative word.

The junior has not reached that level. Not even close. He has a modest 41 tackles and 1 ½ sacks in 26 career games over two seasons.

Part of the problem has been that the 6-foot-8, 290-pound lineman with a soft shooting touch and nimble feet, initially didn’t surrendered to the idea of simply being a defensive end. Injuries have also held back Armstead. Now healthy and eyeing an NFL career, Armstead said he is ready to live up to his potential.

It must never be forgotten that Armstead chose Oregon in large part because Ducks coaches promised him the opportunity to play two sports. 

Playing for an elite football program that practices and plays through December, however, makes it quite difficult to also play basketball, which starts in October.

Armstead redshirted as a basketball player his freshman seaso. He saw action in just one game last season, which was odd considering that the Ducks’ interior game proved to be their main weakness during last season’s run to the second-round of the NCAA Tournament. 

Frustrated, Armstead left the basketball team and gave all of himself to football.

Defensive line coach Ron Aiken, who came onboard last season, said he never talked to Armstead about basketball. Instead, Aiken said he allowed Armstead to choose is own path.

Still: “We’re just happy he’s back with football,” Aiken said.

The difference in Armstead’s physique is obvious.

He appears thicker, the product of countless hours of work on his strength and conditioning.

“The offseason was big for me, out there working strictly on football in the weight room a lot more,” he said.

Dropping basketball, Armstead said, changed his mindset.

“I have a lot more time, and put in a lot more attention to trying to master just football,” Armstead said.

Certain aspects of playing basketball made it more difficult for Armstead to keep his weight up.

“Basketball is a lot of running so you tend to lose a little bit of weight,” he said. “So being in the weight room a lot more and not running as much, or doing a different kind of running, has been helpful.”

Aiken said Armstead grew as a leader both vocally and by his actions.

“He took care of business during the summer, and that was something we really needed him to do,” Aiken said.

As important as anything, Armstead is no longer hindered physically.

“I’m healthy now,” Armstead said. “(Being injured was) frustrating but I’m a team guy and I’m out there just trying to help our team win games, doing what the coaches ask of me.”

Armstead came to Oregon in the same class as defensive tackle Alex Balducci and defensive end DeForest Buckner. For the first time, all three are set to become full-time starters together.

“We want to do great things,” Armstead said of the trio that lived together as freshmen. “Everybody wants to do great things, though. It’s how you approach it, and what are you going to do to be great.”

The Ducks’ defense struggled against the run last season. Aiken said that his new defensive line must do a better job of anchoring the line of scrimmage.

Armstead said that defensive coordinator Don Pellum is expecting a lot from the defensive line.

“Coach Pellum has been asking us to attack more and get more penetration,” Armstead said. “That’s been a big emphasis this camp, and in the spring.”

A great season for Armstead could propel him into the NFL a year early. Armstead said he has purchased a disability and loss of value insurance policy in case of injury, but is non-committal about this being his final season at Oregon.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I’m focused on this season and playing as hard as I can for my team.”