Easily the biggest question mark heading in to a new season with a new coach and a completely different offense would naturally come at quarterback. After all, there are likely to be few, if any, quarterbacks recruited to play a true pro-style system after years of a run-orientated quarterback emphasis.
That’s exactly the dilemma that was happening for the Nebraska Cornhuskers going in to spring football camp.
With a much more run-orientated and not exactly accurate returning starter in Tommy Armstrong, many wondered how he would take to the transition and how the rest of the Huskers’ roster at QB would look as well.
After Saturday’s annual spring game, it’s safe to say that the current status and future of the position is very bright indeed. Not only did Armstrong look confident being a more pocket-orientated passer, but there were two young players who appeared to be really good options behind Armstrong.
While it may be tempting to say Riley could have a real battle at hand come the fall, the way the coaching staff spoke of Armstrong makes it very clear that unless he falls off the face of the earth in preseason camp, Armstrong’s going to be the starter.
On Saturday, Armstrong was just 6 of 12 for 77 yards, but he did throw a great 32-yard touchdown pass to emerging star wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El. He also showed strong leadership while in the game and also had a memorable block on a Terrell Newby scamper down field.
It isn’t so much what he’s doing on the field or in practice that is separating him though, at least according to head coach Mike Riley.
“The thing that never wavered about Tommy — and that is the separator for him as I see it right now — is his confidence,” Riley said, via the Lincoln Journal Star. “He’s a confident guy. He plays like it. If something doesn’t go exactly right, he doesn’t blink.”
As for the rest of the competition? Redshirt freshman Zack Darlington appears to have a leg up on the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.
It was hard to ignore his day on Saturday in the spring game, going 7-of-11 passing for 70 yards and a touchdown to no interceptions. Darlington also showcased an ability to run when things break down, taking off for a 19-yard run.
His big play ability was shown off on the very next play as well, throwing a 29-yard touchdown to Jamal Turner.
For young players there is often a “lightbulb goes off” moment, and Darlington seems to have pinpointed that exact moment this spring.
“The week before spring break (March 22-29) was kind of when I made the jump, when my reps went up,” Darlington said, via the Lincoln Journal Star. “I got moved from the White team to the Red team and I was behind (starter) Tommy Armstrong.
“I kind of shocked myself. I mean, I guess I didn’t think it would happen that fast.”
He isn’t the only young quarterback with an intriguing future ahead of him, at least if the spring game was any indication. That’s because fellow redshirt freshman A.J. Bush had perhaps the best statistical day of any of the three quarterbacks who saw major minutes during the spring game.
Bush was just 12-of-20 passing, but had 124 yards and shook off some early jitters to become perhaps the most explosive passer in this game. He did also throw two interceptions, but the fact remains, Bush showcased perhaps the best overall arm on this squad.
So, while things were shaky at times from this group, it was also very clear that the foundation of something really solid was there.
Even if Armstrong isn’t the long-term answer, the young group of quarterbacks provide good depth and a glimpse of something great for the future of this program.
Let’s just say, Armstrong isn’t going to be able to sit and spin his wheels this fall, and that may be the best thing for this team heading in to a crucial set up year under Mike Riley.