Former University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff football star Terron Armstead and his fellow New Orleans Saints' teammates are looking to put a pair of tough playoff losses behind them to take the final step to becoming Super Bowl champions.
Energy, optimism and confidence abound in the Big Easy, where packed stands have greeted the team at every open practice so far during training camp.
Armstead and the Saints have been among the league's best teams over the past two seasons, winning back-to-back NFC South Division titles in posting a 24-8 record during the regular season put looking to put the sting of odd circumstances leading to playoff losses the past two seasons.
In 2017, the 'Minneapolis Miracle', in which a sideline completion combined with a missed tackle resulted in a touchdown on the game's final play, ended the Saints' season in the NFC Divisional Playoff with 29-23 defeat to the Vikings.
Last season, a missed pass interference call in the NFC Championship game inside the final two minutes of the fourth quarter resulted in a New Orleans field goal as opposed to being able to likely kick the field goal on the game's final play. The botched called led to the Los Angeles Rams gaining a possession to tie the game in regulation and later winning the game 23-20 to create another heartbreaking end to a Saints' season.
"We're leaving last year in the past, and the year before in the past," said Armstead, who's entering his seventh season in New Orleans. "It's a new team. We have free agents, rookies, undrafted guys on the roster. They don't know what that feeling was. This is a completely new team and it's time for the 2019 Saints to write their own story."
Armstead has certainly written his own story, emerging and developing into one of the league's best tackles. He has the responsibility of protecting quarterback Drew Brees, who has combined for 55 touchdown passes and only 13 interceptions in the last two seasons while becoming the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards.
"My number one focus and my number one job every week is to protect Drew and keep everything off of him," said Armstead. "I hate to be the guy that gets him hit at any point in the game. I keep that in the back of my mind to use as fuel to play the game."
Opponents, fans, and media have taken notice of Brees' protector as well. Last season, Armstead was named as a Pro Bowl starter and earned second-team All-Pro honors for the first time in his career.
"It was great to get the recognition and the accolades," Armstead said. "Sometimes you feel like you should be in (earlier in your career), or voted in for this or that, but it's not really up to you. Just go out and handle business and earn the nod with your play. To be selected as a Pro Bowl starter and named All-Pro is a great feeling."
The Saints open the preseason Friday hosting Minnesota, and will open the regular season on Monday Night Football hosting the Houston Texans on Sept. 9.