San Francisco 49ers

Arik Armstead is at his lightest since high school. Why this could spur heavy results

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan: ‘Armstead has done a good job inside and outside’

Arik Armstead, the San Francisco 49ers’ 2015 first-round pick, has slimmed down in an effort to become a quicker edge pass rusher.
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Arik Armstead, the San Francisco 49ers’ 2015 first-round pick, has slimmed down in an effort to become a quicker edge pass rusher.

A deep pass from Brian Hoyer dropped into receiver Marquise Goodwin’s arms as he tumbled into the end zone midway through Sunday’s practice.

So why was the 49ers defense celebrating?

Before Hoyer let go of the ball, defensive end Arik Armstead got around his blocker and “tagged” Hoyer, which constitutes a sack in a practice in which quarterbacks are not to be jostled. Armstead, one of three first-round picks on San Francisco’s defensive line, tallied several of these this offseason as he transitions from a 292-pound interior lineman to a noticeably sleeker edge pass rusher.

Armstead reported to training camp on Thursday at slightly less than 275 pounds, the lowest he’s been since he was a junior at Pleasant Grove High School in Elk Grove.

Despite his slimmed-down frame, Armstead still is bigger than most 4-3 defensive ends in the NFL and is absolutely massive when compared to the traditional “Leo” pass rusher, the position he is playing this year and one designed for speedy rushers.

Cliff Avril, the Seattle Seahawks rusher with whom Armstead trained in Hawaii this month, is 6-3 and 260 pounds. Elvis Dumervil, with whom Armstead will share “Leo” snaps this year, is 5-11 and 250 pounds.

Armstead stands about 6-7.

He said he spent the offseason studying film of players such as Avril and Atlanta’s Dwight Freeney, defensive ends who have played in the same system the 49ers are using this season. He also spent two weeks peppering Avril with questions about technique and Seattle’s defense.

But none of the players he sees on film are close to his profile.

“Not that I’ve seen,” he said. “Everyone’s been smaller than me.”

Of course, being unorthodox also has advantages, including the fact that the players responsible for blocking Armstead – offensive tackles and tight ends – don’t see many players like him.

“He’s an unusual athlete being as tall as he is, his length,” said left tackle Joe Staley. “He’s not a guy you typically see in that role, it’s usually more of a speed guy. But he’s athletic enough to play that position.”

While Armstead lines up on the outside of the defensive line on base downs, on obvious passing downs he often moves inside to defensive tackle, where he is next to DeForest Buckner, his teammate at Oregon.

Armstead and his understudy at his new position, Aaron Lynch, frequently were in the offensive backfield Sunday.

“I never know fully until I watch the tape – my eyes are a lot of places – but I definitely felt them today on a number of plays,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said after practice. “Armstead has done a good job inside and outside. Lynch has come to camp ready to go and I think he’s been doing some good things, too.”

Et cetera – Strong safety Eric Reid suffered what appeared to be an ankle injury early in practice, which left the 49ers without both starting safeties since Jimmie Ward already was out with a hamstring strain. Jaquiski Tartt has been filling in for Ward at free safety. Vinnie Sunseri replaced Reid on Sunday at strong safety.

▪ Linebacker Reuben Foster pulled in his second interception in three days when he stepped in front of a pass from fellow rookie Nick Mullens. Foster had zero interceptions in three seasons at Alabama.

▪ Undrafted strong safety Chanceller James from Boise State also had an interception. James, who was a tryout player in May, has been impressive during spring and early summer.

DeForest Buckner vs Joshua Garnett; Earl Mitchell vs Daniel Kilgore; Solomon Thomas vs Tim Barnes; Tank Carradine vs. Richard Levy during 49ers training camp.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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