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Ray-Ray Armstrong pushing for bigger role on Giants’ defense

Linebacker emerging as option on coverage downs

Ray-Ray Armstrong
[Ed Valentine | Big Blue View]

B.J. Goodson and Alec Ogletree give the New York Giants a solid set of starting inside linebackers, at least against the run.

There have been two concerns about the inside linebacker position. The depth behind Goodson and Ogletree, and the pass coverage of those two linebackers. Ogletree has been beaten for long completions in each of the Giants first two preseason games. Coverage was a concern for him coming out of college three seasons ago and per Football Outsiders data uncovered by our Dan Pizzuta it remains so.

Enter Ray-Ray Armstrong, who could be the answer to both concerns.

Armstrong has had a strong spring and summer. That sort of flew under the radar until Armstrong set up a Giants touchdown in Friday’s game against the Detroit Lions, intercepting a tipped Matt Cassel pass and returning it 24 yards.

During practice this week leading up to Friday’s preseason game against the New York Jets, Armstrong appears to have put himself in line for an increased role. He has been working as a sub-package linebacker, often replacing Goodson in passing situation.

“As a linebacker, he’s long and he can cover. He’s what linebackers should look like and he’s made progress,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “We felt like he had a winning performance in the game the other night.”

Armstrong, 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, was a collegiate safety at Miami before being converted to linebacker in the NFL.

That background “helps a lot” in coverage, Armstrong told reporters earlier this week.

“Playing safety, you have to cover a lot of skill guys, guys with speed who are great in space,” he said. “Moving to linebacker, you are pretty much just on tight ends and running backs.”

Armstrong, a 27-year-old now in his sixth season, came to the Giants late last season, released by the San Francisco 49ers despite starting five games and being second on the team in tackles through the season’s first 11 games.

“I didn’t understand why but it is what it is. They made their decision, I’m here now. I’m trying to make the best of my opportunities here,” Armstrong said. “It’s something that will always be in the back of your mind. You thought you were doing well for someone, and then all of the sudden you’re not there anymore. When I came here I had to erase that and put it in the back of my head and keep moving forward.”

Armstrong may have been a victim of a change at GM in San Francisco. He was signed by Trent Baalke, who was replaced before the 2017 season by John Lynch.

That, though, may turn out to be the Giants’ gain. Armstrong played in five games last, mostly on special teams, though he did start one game at linebacker.

In 62 NFL games, special teams has generally been Armstrong’s calling card. With his play this summer, though, Armstrong is pushing to change that.

“I’ve always had confidence in myself from the get-go that I can compete at a high level in this league. It’s just that those were the cards I was dealt, but now being a veteran going into my sixth year, I’m trying to be comfortable with the position,” he said. “I was coming from safety before I started at the linebacker position, I’m comfortable now. Just keep pushing forward and try to get better as a linebacker overall.”

Armstrong is, to this point, making the Giants feel more comfortable about both the coverage ability and the depth of their inside linebackers.