49ers' Arik Armstead has plenty to prove entering fourth NFL season


SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers held onto Arik Armstead’s contract rights for 2019 with the decision to pick up his fifth-year option.

But, first, Armstead must prove himself worthy of the deal, which does not become fully guaranteed until next March.

Armstead, the No. 17 overall pick in the 2015 draft, knows he has something to prove.

“For sure,” he said. “I’ve been hurt two years in a row, so that brings a lot of, ‘What are you going to do?’ So definitely (I) have a lot to prove and look forward to having a healthy season, and I know what I’m capable of if I’m on the field.”

Armstead has appeared in just 14 games over the past two seasons. He played 16 games as a rookie, but his seasons ended on injured reserve in 2016 and ’17 after requiring shoulder and hand surgeries. Armstead realizes there are plenty of questions about his ability remain healthy and make a contribution.

“Of course, there are critics,” Armstead said. “Of course, fans want players to be out there and not be hurt, but part of football is being injured. I can’t control that. All I can control is, if I do get hurt, I try to rehab and get back healthy and play to the best of my ability.

“Those people don’t really understand what’s going on, so look at it and you brush it off. Just trying to keep that confidence in myself, and I have strong support system and people who love me and think highly of me, so that’s all that matters.”

Even as Armstead, 24, has the same defensive coordinator in back-to-back seasons for the first time in his four-year career, he is still lacking continuity. A year ago, Armstead was lining up at the “Leo” position – a pass-rush position. Now, he is lining up on the opposite side at the “big end” spot.

Armstead, who has six sacks in 30 career games, is envisioned as a defensive end on base downs and will have an opportunity to move to defensive tackle on passing downs to rush the quarterback.

“Arik’s going to do a lot of things for us this year,” 49ers defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina said. “I think he’s more comfortable this year than last year. We tried him at a few spots last year, and I think he’s really starting to feel comfortable at that big end spot and inside pass-rusher on pass downs. I think he has more of a defined role."

The 49ers moved Armstead to big end last season, and he appeared to be a better fit within Robert Saleh's defensive scheme.

“Up until he got hurt, he started playing a lot better because he was comfortable," Zgonina said. "He fit that role better.”

Armstead said 49ers general manager John Lynch informed him after he sustained a fractured hand of the team’s intention to pick up the fifth-year option for 2019 at $9.046 million. He did not hear another word about his future until he saw the official news on the Internet, he said.

“It feels good to be wanted,” Armstead said. “To be wanted by this team is great. I think we’re doing something special here, and I want to be a part of it.”

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