The Redskins upgraded their wide receiver corps during the offseason with the free agent signings of Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, and are counting on the emergence of second-year pro Leonard Hankerson. Armstrong is competing for a role in that crowded unit, hoping to rebound from a disappointing 2011 season.
He was having a solid training camp at the time of his injury. Going for a high pass along the sideline, Armstrong collided with a defender and landed hard on his shoulder. After two days on the sideline, he began practicing in a limited capacity wearing a yellow non-contact jersey. He has gradually ramped up his activity each day.
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and Armstrong both expect the third-year pro to play Saturday. Armstrong said his shoulder shouldn’t give him any problems, though he has yet to absorb any live contact.
“There’s no nerves. I’ve played before, I’ve played sore before, and played hurt before,” Armstrong said. “It’s just one of those things where you’ve got to pick up where you left off. I was having a pretty solid camp. I just need to figure out how to continue what I had going before and translate it into the game.”
Armstrong made his mark with the Redskins during his first NFL season in 2010, when he ranked second in receiving among Washington’s wideouts with 44 receptions for 871 yards and three touchdowns.
The 5-foot-11, 179-pound Armstrong started the 2011 season with two catches for 24 yards and a touchdown. But he was injured in the third game of the season, and despite appearing in another 11 games, Armstrong never returned to form, notching just five more catches for 79 yards.
Armstrong -- who got his start in pro football playing in the Indoor Football League and then bounced around on practice squads before making the Redskins’ roster in 2010 -- remains confident that he can make the team again.
“There’s always doubters out there and lot of people that wouldn’t bet on you to make the team,” Armstrong said. “There are folks feel like going from the 2010 season to 2011 and falling off like I did, that I won’t be able to have a spot on the team. But I’ve never shied away from competition or working hard. I took a long path to get here, and so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t feel like I should make the team.”
One thing working in Armstrong’s favor is the fact that he plays special teams while Garcon, Morgan, Hankerson and Santana Moss do not. He excelled as a gunner on the punt and kickoff units, and hopes to prove himself if given kickoff or punt return opportunities this preseason.
“I try to make myself more valuable,” Armstrong said. “As long as you’re making plays somewhere on the field to help, then they’ll keep you around.”
Armstrong also hopes to prove to coaches that he is more than just a deep threat. He has worked on his route-running in the hope that more versatility will increase his chances as well.
“You get better at your route running so they have faith to put you out on the field in those situations. You make all the catches you can,” Armstrong said. “You can’t just be the guy that runs downfield and catches the ball over your shoulder. You’ve got to be able to run the curls and the comebacks and take the tight angles at the top of your routes, and be able to come back and attack the ball. Best case is they gain some faith, and then say, ‘OK, we can throw him in there on some other downs, not just third-and-20 against Seattle.’”
Garcon, Morgan and Hankerson appear to be locks to make the team, and Moss is a strong fourth candidate. Armstrong is competing primarily with Brandon Banks, Terrence Austin, Aldrick Robinson and Dezmon Briscoe for one of the remaining spots in the receiver unit.
So far, no one has done much to distinguish himself.
“It’s pretty even. Everybody does special teams in some aspect, everybody can run the routes and get open,” Armstrong said. “It’s going to come down to consistency and production. Everyone’s trying to make it difficult to Coach Shanahan and Bruce Allen to make those decisions, and hopefully at the end of the day, I get to stay around for a little bit.”
More Redskins coverage: