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Arik Armstead worked with Cliff Avril, learning mindset from Elvis Dumervil

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The 49ers new LEO is doing the critical work to set himself up for success.

There were plenty of hyped storylines for the San Francisco 49ers heading into training camp, and one of them was how Arik Armstead would take to the LEO position. Armstead had played 3-4 defensive tackle his first two seasons in the league, but the 49ers new coaching staff this year decided to make a change. They brought in Jacksonville Jaguars linebackers coach Robert Saleh to implement a Seattle Seahawks style 4-3 defense.

Saleh has said it will be the 49ers version of it, but there are some similarities between the Seahawks and Falcons, and now what the 49ers will likely do. One similarity is the weak side pass rusher, known as the LEO in this defense. Armstead entered the offseason weighing over 290 pounds, and the move to LEO required a drop in weight. It turns out, Armstead had already been working on losing some weight even before the new coaching staff was hired.

Armstead said on Sunday that shortly after the 49ers season ended, he started working with a military guy in San Francisco and had dropped down to 280 when he started learning about his new LEO role. He said it was more about the physical training than diet that helped him get down, and it was not all that difficult to drop the weight he had been carrying since his senior year of high school.

The change in position means new techniques and new approaches to the offense. Armstead has had a nearly ideal learning experience this offseason. He has spent the offseason studying other LEOs, and breaking down what the Seahawks and Falcons do in their schemes. During his time in Hawaii with DeForest Buckner and Michael Bennett, he also got a chance to work with Seahawks LEO Cliff Avril. Armstead said that he was able to bring questions he had about the position directly to Avril as they worked out over two weeks.

Training camp will bring plenty of learning opportunities for Armstead. The 49ers signed Elvis Dumervil in June to add depth to their nickel pass rush situation. They ring different looks to the pass rush, but Armstead has been able to talk to him about pre-snap decisions and how Dumervil views the game. Armstead brings incredible physical attributes to the position, but the mental part is the area where Dumervil can bring experience Armstead does not have.

It remains to be seen how Armstead will transition into the LEO position when the season starts. But for the time being, he is doing all the right things to set himself up for success.

Here’s his full press conference transcript from Sunday, and you can watch video here.

How transition to LEO has been:

I think it’s going well. I’m a pretty versatile guy, and I think the coaches saw that in me. They believe in me that I can play that position, I believe in myself. It’s a little adjustment of course going from a two-gap in to a LEO edge rusher type guy. Definitely had to lose some weight and change my body a little bit to better help me play that position.

How much weight has he lost:

I probably lost about 15, 10-15.

First day in pads and seeing how the weight change has impacted him:

Yea, first opportunity to go out there and work with pads on, and everyone was eager to get the pads on and start to get more into it. So it was an opportunity for everyone on the team to go out there and show what they can do.

What he’s had to hone in on to transition to LEO given he’s not normal sized LEO:

In OTAs I wanted to work on, it’s a different technique when you’re in a read stance playing two gaps, going side-to-side, more than getting off. And playing against tight ends and smaller guys, and playing in more space, you gotta kinda be more athletic. So I think losing the weight helped with that. Other than that, I knew it would come just getting reps at it, and always continuing to work on my game, whether that’s stopping the run or rushing the passer.

On reaction to position switch:

My reaction was like, man, this is a big opportunity for me, looking at that position. Guys have been very successful in that position, being able to do some good things and help their team win games. I love my role. Before we got everybody in, didn’t really know if we were gonna be 3-4 next year or 4-3. And we finally got established, got everybody in here, met the new coaching staff, and they gave me this new position, and I’m just gonna try and do my best.

Who he studied that played the position:

Yea, I started looking at a lot more outside guys, outside rushers, watching more film of them. Last year, I studied a lot of inside guys, which I still continue to do. They got me rushing both inside and outside. Definitely studied of course the teams from this coaching tree of this defense, which is Seattle and Atlanta. Definitely studied that for scheme. When I’m looking at scheme, if I like something that the LEO does, then I try and take that and remember that for the future.

If he talked to Cliff Avril, and what Avril told him:

Yea, I talked to Cliff a bunch. We were working out, I think he was out there for two weeks, so we worked out for like two weeks in a row. More technique stuff. As far as the position, just what the defense requires of you, certain techniques and stuff. But yea, he was a big help for me. Especially, that was one of the guys I watched film of, being in Seattle playing the LEO spot, watched a lot of film of him. Any chance I saw something on film, he was right there for two weeks for me to ask him questions, like, “Well, why’d you do this X, Y, and Z?”

On any bigger bodied guys that have lined up at LEO:

Not that I’ve seen. Everyone’s been smaller than me.

What he weighs:

I’m like 275.

When he last weighed that:

Last time I weighed 275, was sometime in high school, like my junior year. So I’ve been around 290 and all that since senior year in high school, and all my time at Oregon, and that’s what my body needed to play that certain position.

On what he can learn from Elvis Dumervil:

Elvis is always, he’s a vet, he’s been in the game a while, so I have an opportunity to ask him questions, of course. We look very different and certain things he does might not work for me. But just more about mentally, and more about pre-snap, how you view the game, I asked some questions on, rather than moreso technique things. I mean hand stuff and all that stuff’s all the same, but I really like to pick his brain about mentality, the mental aspect of the game, so I can add that to my game and get a jump on people.

On how he lost the weight:

I didn’t really have a key. It kinda just naturally happened. I was working out really hard. Right after the season I went up to San Francisco and started working out with this military guy, and it kinda just naturally happened. I got to 285, but I was still strong. And I was doing that and I found out who our new coaches were gonna be, and we were gonna run a [4-3]. And I’d already lost some weight, so I was like OK, I’ll just work out, and get in the best shape and stay strong, and whatever weight I’m at is what I’m at because I don’t know what I’m gonna play yet. And so, when I got here, when they got here I was at like 280 anyway, so it didn’t really …

On dietary changes:

Umm no, I started doing better on my diet after college — well, like my junior year in college I really started doing better with my diet. And I kinda been good on those kinds of things since my junior year in college. So monitoring my weight was more for the position I played. So it really wasn’t too big of an adjustment for me to just eat more healthy. It’s really more the working out that really got me to where I’m at.

On noticing difference since getting shoulder fixed:

Yea, I mean my shoulder is intact and sound, and it’s not loose, and I know it’s not going to pop out on me, so that helps a lot. And it gives me confidence to use my shoulder in ways it can. So that definitely gives me a lot of confidence out there. I’m going to continue, it gets better and better every day, and I get more and more comfortable with it every day. So, just keep on grinding on that.

On how he felt heading into last year with the shoulder issue:

My mindset was, I been playing with it. I went and saw one of best doctors in the world and he said that it’s intact. It hadn’t started popping out on me until training camp. I had never experienced anything like that. My mindset was, I know how my shoulder is, I know the condition of it, I’ve been playing forever with it, it really hasn’t, it’s bothered me some but I’ve been good. I didn’t want a setback of surgery, so I was like, I’ve been doing good enough how I am, and then it started popping out and of course you can’t really play like that.

How many times it popped out last year:

I don’t know exactly. A couple times maybe.

On any improvement of flexibility:

Yea, something I’ve been working on, yoga and those kinds of things. Past two years I’ve been doing hot yoga and that kind of stuff.

What gives him hope pass rush will be a lot better than last year:

Last year was last year, that’s the past. Looking forward, I feel like we’re going to be very successful. I think that we’re so deep on the d-line and on the linebacker position with guys who can rush the passer. I feel like even our 2s are 1s. I don’t even see 2s in my head. I feel like we’re all 1s and we’re gonna send ‘em in waves. Getting sacks and those kinds of things is more a mentality. I think we have the right scheme to do it, I think we have the right mentality to do it, I think we have the right players to do it. We just have to go out now and get it done.