Armstrong Embraces Opportunity

Posted May 22, 2013

Ray Ray Armstrong spent the better part of the past year searching.

Searching for a place to play football. Searching for the right fit. Searching for an opportunity, any opportunity that would allow him to pursue his lifelong dream.

Once considered a rising star safety at the University of Miami, Armstrong’s seemingly certain path to the NFL first came off the rails in 2011 and was squashed further in 2012.

But a player of Armstrong’s considerable talents can almost always find a chance even if it’s not the one they always envisioned.

So it is that Armstrong is here at Rams Park a part of the Rams’ undrafted rookie class, playing a new position and hoping to show that the promise he once showed can be translated into NFL success.

“I’m excited about the opportunity,” Armstrong said. “It’s a lifelong dream. You want to play in the league so just coming out here, giving it my all and hopefully making that 53. It’s something anybody would want. Anybody would want the chance to come out here and just prove themselves so that’s how I look at it.”

As recently as 2010, it seemed that teams all over the league would be more than willing to give Armstrong that chance. As a sophomore safety, Armstrong posted 79 tackles, 4.5 for loss and three interceptions despite starting just three games.

The hard-hitting, hard-working Armstrong had quickly developed a reputation for his on-field exploits and NFL scouts were beginning to take notice.

It wasn’t long after that Armstrong found himself watching instead of playing. He was suspended for five games in 2011 and was subsequently dismissed from the team in July 2012.

Armstrong immediately adopted a mentality that wouldn’t allow him to do anything but move forward even if it was frustrating being unable to play and continue to add to his potential NFL resume.

“Of course it’s difficult because you have been playing your whole life, doing what you love to do,” Armstrong said. “So just not being able to play, sitting back and watching it was kind of frustrating at first. I just kind of got over it and just looking to the future.”

The short term future for Armstrong meant looking for a chance to play. He looked all over and opted to head to Faulkner College, an NAIA school in Montgomery, Ala. in hopes that he could spend a season there before trying his hand at the NFL Draft.

But Armstrong’s eligibility was denied and he found himself inventing new ways to stay involved with the game. While he continued to workout with his teammates at Faulkner, he also developed a new way of looking at the game from the sidelines, serving as a de facto special teams coach and helping guide the defense in certain situations.

“I still felt like a player,” Armstrong said. “I couldn’t get on them too much so I would pretty much just tell them if I see something to try to correct.”

After the season, Armstrong began his preparations for the NFL Draft just like any other player. He worked out and did what he could to find a potential landing spot.

The Rams showed some early interest in Armstrong and saw him as a possible fit though that fit represented a departure from his safety position. Listed at 6’3, Armstrong estimated he weighs about 227 pounds upon his arrival in St. Louis.

That puts him in a little bit of a ‘tweener spot where he’d be too big for safety but on the smaller end for a linebacker. After running the 40-yard dash in 4.69 seconds at Miami’s pro day, it became clear he may need a position switch in the NFL.

When Armstrong was talking to the Rams in the rush for free agents after the draft, he was asked how he’d feel about moving to linebacker. He wasted no time agreeing to the change.

“The main thing is repetition,” Armstrong said. “Over four years, I have been playing safety so the stuff you have been doing playing safety, you can’t use too much of that playing linebacker so it’s just playing linebacker, reacting and getting it down and I should be fine.”

Playing linebacker isn’t a completely alien proposition to Armstrong, either. He played a position similar to the weak side spot the Rams are asking him to play during his time at Seminole High in Sanford, Fla.

According to Armstrong the change in position simply requires that he put in more work in his playbook but he also noted that playing linebacker isn’t terribly different from the in-the-box safety role he played at Miami.

Having spent some time coaching special teams at Faulkner, Armstrong also has a little leg up on the fastest route for undrafted free agents like him looking to make their mark during the preseason.

“Playing football to me is just getting out there tackling people, coming down in the box and making hard hits, just celebrating with my team,” Armstrong said. “All that stuff just goes together and is a lot of fun for me.”

From a Rams perspective, Armstrong figures to be one of a number of young players looking to make enough of an impression to make the 53-man roster.

Aside from presumptive starters James Laurinaitis, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Alec Ogletree, only Josh Hull has any notable experience playing in the league. Should the Rams opt to keep six or seven linebackers, that could leave Armstrong in a competition with young players like Sammy Brown and Jabara Williams as well as his fellow undrafted rookies.

“He’s just a really good athlete,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “He’s been off for a while. He’s in good shape. He participated in (all star) bowl games. He’s done some pro days. He got caught up in a difficult situation and he’s happy for the opportunity.”
That opportunity is Armstrong’s sole focus these days as he’s put the past behind him in terms of worrying about things outside of his control. That doesn’t mean he won’t use the past as incentive to drive his future.

“I believed in myself when nobody did,” Armstrong said. “I will always believe in myself so when the opportunity came; I was just going to run with it.  I’ve got the opportunity now to do what I’m supposed to do and come out here and prove myself. It’s extra motivation, a major chip (on my shoulder).”