The Nebraska Cornhuskers are looking for a new face at quarterback for this season, after long-time slinger Taylor Martinez ended his illustrious career in Lincoln as one of the most decorated athletes to ever walk through the program. He leaves holding Nebraska’s all-time record for career total offense (10,233), completions (575) and touchdown passes (65). Now that his eligibility has been expired, it’s time for Tommy Armstrong Jr. to step up, and he’s going to do it in a big way.
Last season, Armstrong appeared in nine games, including the Gator Bowl against Georgia, and attempted a pass in eight. Inconsistency and injury to Martinez led to a multitude of opportunities for the young freshman to prove himself and develop for a promising future.
In the eight games in which he put the ball in the air, Armstrong completed 68 of 131 passes for 966 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. On top of that, he put some of his creativity and athleticism on display with 202 rushing yards and two scores.
Those stats are not spectacular, no. He has many improvements to make before reaching his undiscovered ceiling. But in a season that will give him consistent play as a starter at quarterback, Armstrong will drastically improve and be a shining light in the Nebraska offense.
Armstrong’s success will start not with him, but with running back Ameer Adbullah, who has piled up 2,977 yards and 20 touchdowns in three seasons with the Cornhuskers. Any quarterback who has that kind of production in his backfield is going to greatly benefit because the attack becomes two-dimensional; all of the sudden, the pressure isn’t so great.
Something many coaches will tell you about their best players is how they’ve become leaders. That’s what Armstrong has been doing early in spring practices. He has seized the the quarterback position, according to the coaches, who have him taking almost all of the first-team snaps.
The next step is to become a vocal leader in the offense. I agree with the notion that not all leaders need to be loud and emphatic on the field, but do you mind pointing me toward a successful quarterback, playing on a successful team, who doesn’t make himself heard? I’d say that’s almost unheard of — no pun intended.
Lastly, Armstrong’s 2014 success will be aided by natural progression. The bumpy pattern of playing time can be both helpful and detrimental to a young player. Personally, I saw Armstrong develop last season in itself, and there’s no reason that experience shouldn’t benefit the sophomore this season.
I’m not trying to say Armstrong is a Heisman candidate or anything like that; as you know, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But with the tools in place, you will be looking at the Big 10‘s most improved player from a year ago.