Arik Armstead on the ‘mental toll’ injuries had on him

Jul 31, 2023, 2:55 PM | Updated: 3:55 pm

Arik Armstead #91 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi's St...

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 11: Arik Armstead #91 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi's Stadium on December 11, 2022 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

(Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

Entering year nine in the NFL, Arik Armstead has been around the block a few times. The versatile defensive lineman has experienced his fair share of ups and downs with the 49ers, both personally and as a team. But it’s the injuries, specifically the recovery, that have resonated with him most.

San Francisco’s longest-tenured player took time Monday to reflect on the play of his unit so far in training camp, specifically defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw. Kinlaw has struggled to stay on the field, playing 10 games in the last two seasons due to injuries.

Now fully healthy, the big man has been stacking days on the practice field. But for Armstead, he’s just happy to see his teammate in the right state of mind.

“I don’t think people understand the mental toll injuries take on you,” Armstead told the media Monday. “Waking up with pain and those type of things; that can lead to depression [and] a real bad mental state. So I’m sure he’s feeling healthy, feeling more like himself is making him happy. And he’s able to use his god-given abilities and the ones he’s been training and working on to go out there and do something he loves.”

But while Armstead is concerned about his overall health, “JK” has put that behind him, having a dominant day of practice to start the week. Putting the pads on for the first time this season, the South Carolina alum was a bull in a china shop, running through or around the offensive line.

It may just be training camp, but the elevation of his play is noticeable to say the least.

“JK’s been balling…he’s been looking amazing and dominating…it’s been great to see [his success after the injuries] and he’s going to have a big year,” Armstead stated.

Armstead sympathizes with Kinlaw because he was hurt last year, as well.

Missing part of the season with a lower-body injury, the Sacramento native was only featured in nine regular-season games in 2022. Unlike Kinlaw though, Armstead was able to get back out on the field, helping the 49ers reach the NFC Championship game. While the 29-year-old wants to play on every defensive snap, he’s proud of the impact he made once he returned to the field late last season.

“Last year for me was a series of unfortunate events. But my main focus was just getting myself back to a place where I could help my team win games and I felt like I did that down the stretch, started to feel more like myself. When my team needs me the most, down the stretch in must-win games and playoffs, I feel I played well when they needed me,” Armstead explained.

Now entering the second half of his career, the Oregon alum is focused on the big picture of winning a Super Bowl. And in order to do that, he needs to get better one day at a time, even in year nine.

“You got to improve yourself every year. Every year is a new year, turn the page, no matter what you do [the year prior]. I think I have a lot of respect around the league,” Armstead said. “But I want to keep continuing to play good football and have a dominant year and continue to prove myself and show what I can do.”

Armstead is also inspired to be better because of the guys around him.

Adding DT Javon Hargrave in the offseason was the cherry on top for the 49ers, adding to a line that already had Nick Bosa, Armstead and prospect Drake Jackson. And then they added other rotational pieces, such as Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant. It’s safe to say San Francisco hopes to be more dominant in the trenches, and has shown that thus far in training camp

The scary part: They don’t even have Bosa on the field yet, still holding out as contract negotiations linger.

“[The defensive line] is a great group and we’re not even all the way together yet. We don’t have our guy,” Armstead said with a slight smirk.

Armstead addresses skirmish at practice Monday

Monday’s practice saw pads go on players for the first time this training camp. And with that came the first fight of the new year.

Midway through 11-on-11s, running back Elijah Mitchell was brought down hard by linebacker Marcelino McCray-Ball. After the play, the wide receivers and defensive backs got into it, with WR Tay Martin reportedly at the center of it all. First words were exchanged and then punches. One thing led to another and before you knew it, a full brawl had ensured on the practice field between multiple players, with helmets being ripped off as well.

Hoping to nip it in the bud, coach Kyle Shanahan huddled up his guys and broke it down before going back to business as usual.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, as the 49ers are prone to physical play when the pads come on. Being involved in two altercations last season, Arik Armstead wasn’t surprised by it, expressing the message that the team needs to stick together at the end of the day.

“It’s football, it’s a physical sport, things like that are happening, guys, we’re gonna get into it,” Armstead said. “But the main thing is we all need each other. You know, I can’t win without them, they can’t win without us, and we’re all on this journey together and we’re all brothers. So we got to protect each other.”

Despite the scuffle, Arik Armstead was very pleased with the first day of padded practice, eager as ever to get back out there again tomorrow.

“I thought it was a good practice for our team, get some frustration out, putting the pads on and getting into playing real football,” he said.

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