Arik Armstead enters his fifth NFL season finally secure in the knowledge that not only he knows where he fits best along the 49ers’ defensive line, but his coaches also have a handle on his role.
“It’s kind of unfortunate with injuries early in my career, and new coaches coming in, we have this guy who can do X, Y and Z, but he hasn’t been on the field to go through a whole season to lock down a position,” Armstead said on the 49ers Insider Podcast.
“But I think now having a whole year, having a coaching staff for three years now, playing in the same scheme, I think my coaches know me a lot better. They know what I can do and they know how to use me.”
Armstead figures to line up at “big end” in the 49ers’ base defense. He is best-suited for playing the five-technique, lining up on the outside shoulder of an opposing offensive lineman or in the “wide nine,” in which he moves to the outside of the tight end.
“And on third down I’m an inside, dominant pass-rusher rushing against guards,” Armstead said. “That’s kind of the game plan they have for me.”
Armstead figures to benefit from the teachings of new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, whom the 49ers hired shortly after the end of the season when the Miami Dolphins fired coach Adam Gase and did not retain most of his coaching staff.
“There are read defenses and there are attacking defenses,” Armstead said. “He really wants us to attack and get off the ball and establish a new line of scrimmage and be violent and physical out there and kind of wreak havoc. So that’s the mentality that he’s preaching and how he wants us to play.”
After struggling with shoulder and hand injuries in 2016 and ’17 that limited him to just 14 games and 10 starts in those two seasons, Armstead started all 16 games last season. He was constantly moved around on the defensive line in his first three NFL seasons.
"Yeah, I definitely felt that frustration, being moved around,” Armstead said.
“As a D-lineman, you’re moved around a lot. I think I’m versatile, so I think when there’s much expected out of you, much is required.”
With more of a defined role last season, Armstead recorded a career-best 48 tackles and three sacks. He proved to be a dominant defender against the run, and has the potential to break out as a pass-rusher. The 49ers picked up his fifth-year option, paying him more than $9 million for the upcoming season.
DeForest Buckner recorded 12 sacks last season, and the 49ers acquired outside pass rusher Dee Ford in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. The 49ers are likely to use the No. 2 overall draft pick to select another top pass-rush threat.
“I’m going to be productive when I’m on the field and get pressure and get sacks and do my job,” Armstead said. “It’s going to make it a lot easier having a lot of talent around me.”