Steven M. Sipple: Watching QB Armstrong may be worth 10 bucks

2013-04-06T00:05:00Z 2013-04-06T19:07:04Z Steven M. Sipple: Watching QB Armstrong may be worth 10 bucks JournalStar.com

So much to see, so little time.

We'll zero in on a slew of inexperienced defenders Saturday during Nebraska's Red-White Spring Game, even as the clock runs unabated in the second half. We'll attempt to gauge how well coach Bo Pelini's spring fix-it project might be progressing.

We'll also watch the future. 

Tommy Armstrong has a good chance to become Nebraska's next big thing at quarterback. The smiling face of the franchise. Mind you, nobody is anointing him. Particularly not Johnny Stanton. Nor Ron Kellogg III. But plenty of folks seem impressed by Armstrong, a redshirt freshman from Cibolo, Texas.

A reporter suggested to Tim Beck this week that Armstrong perhaps possesses the on-field presence of a military general. The Husker offensive coordinator didn't exactly pour cold water on the notion.

No doubt the kid has presence, Joe Ganz said.

"He has a command in the huddle that's hard to teach, especially to young guys," said the former standout Husker quarterback, now a graduate assistant who works exclusively with quarterbacks.

"Tommy's a natural-born leader, and it shows on the field, especially during scrimmages."

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Armstrong is probably reason alone to spend 10 bucks to watch a glorified practice. He'll wear No. 4 and see extensive action, in part because senior starter Taylor Martinez, as has been the case all spring in scrimmages, will be limited significantly. Martinez might play only a few series, Pelini said.

The coaches obviously know precisely what they have in Martinez, who by most accounts has enjoyed an excellent spring, especially as a passer.

The coaches are learning more and more about Armstrong. They seem to like what they see, for the most part, as he battles for the backup job.

"Tommy has the system down pretty well, but he's not exactly where he should be," Ganz said.

No surprise, given Armstrong's youth.

"Still, he has that presence even though he's not always sure of himself," Ganz said. "Guys are going to follow him."

A lot of us will follow Armstrong closely Saturday. In doing so, it will be important to maintain perspective. It's a scrimmage. The defense will be very vanilla. Coaches already have made their most important player evaluations. Saturday is mostly showtime, a chance for young players to show they can handle a game-like atmosphere.

Still, let's watch Armstrong's running ability. He rushed for 1,281 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior at powerhouse Steele High School. 

"He's big and physical," Ganz said. "He's got speed. He doesn't have Taylor's speed. But he has a little more shiftiness than Taylor does. He's a different kind of runner. He'll get you those tough 3-, 4-yard gains. Where Taylor is more of the home-run threat with straight-line speed, Tommy has a little more wiggle to him."

Armstrong evidently isn't quite ready to be like Mike Rozier.

"Tommy sometimes likes to run out of bounds," Ganz said. "We're trying to fix that a little."

Armstrong, like all Nebraska players, is unavailable for media interviews until he plays in a game. A real game, not a scrimmage. Ganz thinks Armstrong might run out of bounds at times because he's mindful of a knee injury that dates to high school. He underwent what Pelini described as minor surgery in late October. Beck said the quarterback has recovered fully.

Armstrong's right arm evidently feels OK.

"He's got a cannon," said Nebraska star wideout Kenny Bell. "He messed my chest up (Wednesday). He threw a bullet."

Armstrong, though, is a bit raw as a passer. Again, no surprise.

"He has a lot of work to do," Ganz said. "What he didn't realize coming in is how much your lower body affects your throw. If your lower body is screwed up, you could have the best arm in the world, but it's going to be inaccurate. The accuracy comes from your lower half.

"He's just learning to use his lower half, and he's still got a real strong arm. Once he puts it all together, it'll be pretty good."

Armstrong is fun and outgoing, Bell said, "a great dude to be around." Even so, Armstrong has work to do even in the leadership category. He's hotly competitive and tends to get down on himself after a mistake. You don't want to see that from any player, but especially the quarterback.

"You can't let guys see you get frustrated, because then they're unsure of your decision-making," Ganz said. "If you come off a bad throw and are kind of pouting, guys are unsure about your confidence and unsure how you're going to throw the ball.

"You can't have a guy sulking and down in the dumps trying to lead a football team."

By and large, the reviews on Armstrong are mostly positive.

"Man, he competes his tail off," Bell said. "He missed a lot of time last season with his knee injury. But he was in his (play)book. So that's good."

Good to hear encouraging words about the young QB.

It'll be even better to see him for ourselves.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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About the writer

Steven M. Sipple | Lincoln Journal Star

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.


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