Kicker Graham replaces Hartley

by Walter Pierce

Sean Payton announced Wednesday that veteran Shayne Graham was New Orleans' new kicker, and that rookie Terron Armstead would get his first start at left tackle.

Garrett Hartley (No. 5) helped kick the Saints to Super Bowl champs following the 2009 season. On Sunday versus the Rams, Hartley kicked himself into unemployment.

METAIRIE, La. (AP) - In addition to bringing in a new kicker for Sunday's pivotal NFC South clash with Carolina, the Saints will have a rookie who has yet to take a single offensive snap protecting Drew Brees' blind side.

Sean Payton announced Wednesday that veteran Shayne Graham was New Orleans' new kicker, and that Terron Armstead would get his first start at left tackle. The coach also asserting that the moves were aimed solely at improving performance at certain positions - not so much to get the attention of his team after a 27-16 upset loss at St. Louis.

"These aren't decisions you make for effect," Payton said. "You don't do that. At least we don't."

The Saints also have signed veteran safety Eric Frampton, who played under current Saints defensive coordinator in Dallas last season, and is expect to help right away on special teams.

New Orleans can win its division and secure the No. 2 seed in the NFC by winning at Carolina. However, the Saints also could slide down to a wild card spot with a loss, or even miss the playoffs entirely by losing their last two games.

Graham replaces Garrett Hartley, who was released on Tuesday afternoon, two days after failing to convert two field goals in a 27-16 loss at St. Louis. Armstead will start in place of Charles Brown, who was benched during the second half of Sunday's game.

Graham is a 12-year veteran who played at Houston last season.

Armstead was a third-round draft choice out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. His playing career thus far consists of 17 special teams snaps and he has been inactive for 10 games, but the Saints have high hopes for the 6-foot-5, 304-pound lineman who at the very least brings a quick first step, what Saints coaches consider to be exceptional athleticism for his size and relatively good health. The question will be whether his blocking technique is refined enough to keep Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy - who has eight sacks - away from Brees.

"He's athletic. He's someone who has a pretty good feel of what we're doing," Payton said. "Certainly there'll be growing pains when you play a young player like that. ... I'm anxious to see him compete."

Zach Strief, who moved from right tackle to left tackle last Sunday after Brown's benching, will return to his regular spot, where Payton said he has been playing well. Bryce Harris, who took some snaps at right tackle on Sunday, returns to his reserve role.

Payton said it was hard, from a personal standpoint, to release Hartley, who made a series of high-pressure kicks when the Saints won the Super Bowl to close the 2009 season. Hartley hit the overtime winner in the NFC title game that season, then made three kicks from more than 40 yards in the Super Bowl.

"When you win a championship like that, there's a little bit stronger bond between everyone on that team, on that bus ride home," Payton said.

This season, however, Hartley was 22 of 30, with all eight of his misses coming from inside 50 yards. On Sunday, his 36-yard attempt was blocked and his 26-yard attempt was hooked left.

"He's an extremely talented player, he's going to play in this league, I think, for quite a long time and have success. And the way these doors kind of open and close, we just agreed that hey, right now, don't ever say never in regards to being back with the team," Payton said.

The coach added that with many positions on the field, coaches can change things to help the player's performance, but noted that "it's a little bit more nebulous when it comes to the confidence of a kicker."

"He had a great week of practice last week, and yet, it didn't manifest itself in the game," Payton said. "So, that was a tough decision."